By Tony Andrews
For full participation, just like any other Australians, First Nations need allies and support.
Big business has a seemingly bottomless source of funds available to forward their own agendas. The union movement, though fairly limited in funds, has the passionate commitment and feet on the ground at election time and on the streets, to help enforce the workers right to participate in the democratic process.
Maybe First Nations people need to take pieces from both of those games to create a new one, with its own unique design.
Unions have morally and financially provided support to our Indigenous brothers and sisters for generations, so the things I’m bringing up here have, most likely, been discussed and debated before, and I’m not suggesting I’ve got the answer or ability to solve anything.
These are just an ordinary bloke’s view of a very, complex jigsaw puzzle and the pieces I’m adding are, I’m sure, not new.
One piece of that puzzle to help create a possible path towards collective independence and self-determination that’s worthy of the name, would be if industry super funds were able to finance sustainable and practical Indigenous projects or infrastructure. Projects that combine traditional ways, language and communities with modern, easily adaptable and profitable business models that can be developed to provide stable, long-term income for our First Nations people.
That allows for, and recognises the importance of, building economically sustainable and commercially viable projects that not only provide employment opportunities and community development, but does it in a way that is acceptable and natural to the people within those communities, as well as those that wish to adopt and have adopted, European ways and motivations, but still wish to retain the sense of self that connection to culture can provide.
Although there are economic enterprises controlled and operated successfully by Indigenous groups – cattle stations, for example – providing jobs and income for those associated with them, overall, it still seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
The financial power, although not as substantial as corporate derived wealth, combined with the ideals inherent in the concept of unionism, provide a course for indigenous people that cannot be found from government, NGOs or corporate controlled interests.
This includes land councils that, at times, appear controlled and influenced by short-term goals that deplete financial resources, rather than sustaining and growing the capital produced from mining royalties in a way that can produce financial security far into the future.
Or due to finance allocation from a mixed bag of bureaucratic red tape that can often require, sometimes not unreasonably, different outcomes with funds from each different area of government.
Unless these other vested interest groups get a larger share of the pie than the Aboriginals they wish to ‘service’ or that feel obligated to dictate the form, direction and management of their investment or funding, it’s almost impossible for First Nations people to take ownership, pride and responsibility for any long-term economic enterprise.
Service, at the moment, is the right word because, whether it is government, corporate, conservative or conservation groups, their agenda will always come first, until First Nations people are no longer viewed as a cost, but as an economically powerful group in their own right.
In fact, providing services to First Nations people is a huge industry in itself, with very little participation or skills investment in those it serves, by those that profit.
Not everyone wants to be a miner.
Why should those with other aspirations miss out on training negotiated as part of mining agreements or at the whim of policy set by state or federal governments?
Again, money invested to provide educational opportunities is often allocated to a set criterion, restricting access for some and providing an abundance of opportunity for others.
True balance is missing.
Those in union held seats on the board of industry superannuation funds have a fiscal responsibility to protect and grow the funds of the workforce members that are invested in them, but long-term, sustainable growth ahead of short-term, risky investment strategies is, or should be, part and parcel with that objective … So should strengthening social bonds and providing opportunities for others.
What good is native title or land rights for First Nation Australians if the benefits flow only to individuals, bureaucratic red tape, or groups within groups?
Does the wealth from mining royalties get shared around or invested to ensure the future development and interests are protected of all Indigenous people?
In theory, yes, in practice, no, it doesn’t.
It is used as a tool to divide those that, in reality, have the most to gain from pooling their resources without interference from often well-meaning people that, unfortunately, have only a vague idea of how all the pieces fit into the jigsaw puzzle.
Before this can happen though, the debate on a long-term, economically sustainable direction needs to be held by all Australian Indigenous groups, with collective economic self-sufficiency as its only focus.
This itself could take years and will be a huge struggle as competing individuals and groups try to dominate and control according to their own self-interest or intrenched beliefs. Some will also attempt to hijack the forums with unrelated, but important issues that also need to be addressed at some stage.
For now though, inclusion in the Australian constitution is the focus and, like any game, success can only come one goal at a time.