Aboriginal people urged to take on mainstream economic role

Date: August 31 2006
by Dan Harrison

ABORIGINAL people had no choice but to join the mainstream economy, business and community leaders told an indigenous economic summit in Melbourne.

"What we need to do is to start to find the ways in which we can participate in the mainstream economy, not just as consumers, but as … profit-makers," Ron Morony, general manager of Indigenous Business Australia, said. IBA is a Federal Government agency that provides support and subsidised loans to Aboriginal people to buy houses and start businesses.

"In too many communities we see examples of housing being provided where we're not creating jobs, we're not creating wealth," Mr Morony told the Darebin Indigenous Economic Summit and Job Market.

"We're seeing services being provided that don't involve the local community. We've got to turn that around."

According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates, the unemployment rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is more than three times that of the population. Average household incomes for indigenous people are less than 60 per cent of those of non-indigenous Australians.

Mr Morony said part of the solution was to create ventures between indigenous communities and business, which also could ensure developments were sensitive to community needs.

One of the IBA's investments, The Crossing Inn at Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia, had decided to restrict the sale of alcohol, which had cut profits. "We look for commercial solutions, rather than welfare solutions," Mr Morony said.

Mark Rose, assistant general manager of the Victorian Department of Education and Training's Koori strategy branch, said entrepreneurship might be the key to economic empowerment for Aboriginal people, who lacked high levels of formal education.

"There's a real link between entrepreneurs and the Aboriginal spirit," he said. "My people, the Gunditjmara people, were into enterprise tens of thousands of years ago — go see the fish traps at Lake Condah.

"Entrepreneurialism is an equaliser … it's pure self-determination. You can be a socialist all you like, but you've still got to work for someone."

Dr Rose suggested the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander chamber of commerce to provide support for indigenous entrepreneurs.

Alf Bamblett, executive officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association, told the summit indigenous people should use their collective buying power to secure a fairer share of the nation's prosperity for their communities.

"Aboriginal people are consumers," he said. "If you took … Aboriginal money out of some towns in this state and in other parts of the country, there'd be a virtual economic drought in those places."