By Tony Andrews
Governments can throw all the money in the world at our indigenous population, but without spending on outback infrastructure or allowing the voices from the land, not just urban or intellectual voices, input and authority into how it’s spent, it’s just wasted.
Not wasted by the communities it’s meaning to benefit though, it barely reaches them and rarely in a way that it can be put to practical use.
Social problems have not occurred in a vacuum and any real change needs to be addressed without the over reliance of emotionally charged, short term fixes that ignore the real problems that remote communities face on a day to day basis.
To do this effectively, more of our First Nations people, from all areas of Australia, need to really understand the processes of royalty negotiation and rights under native title.
People from everywhere legally trained to test the concepts and apparent legal/political limits to property and land use, and have access to capital for economic investment.
Just like in any society, not everyone is capable of understanding these issues or are even interested enough to want to, but everyone’s views need to be understood and their collective rights protected if a long-term solution is to be found.
Capital investment by Industry super funds, if invested in projects that are well researched and developed as being compatible and consistent with what the area and community find viable, would provide a return on investment for members and could potentially transform the power structure between black and white Australia.
Self-determination can, I believe, only come with ownership and responsibilities.
It also must be looked at as collective self-determination, ownership and responsibility, not individual.
Too much burden is placed on individuals, the need to identify, to belong.
Almost everyone, from all backgrounds and races, seem to believe respect must be earned, instead of given freely, this places unnecessary restrictions on individuals who feel they cannot live up to the expectations of others and could, arguably, be one of the root causes of alcoholism and domestic violence issues that are found in all societies.
The strength of any group with the same objective can only be measured by how well it protects and supports those that, for various reasons, contribute less than others. Acceptance without restrictions or comparison to anybody else’s personal effort is the foundation stone of progressive leadership. Recognising this and encouraging participation without shame or favour is essential when attempting to walk a collective path.
Individuals have many shapes and forms, a lot of people with Aboriginal heritage can assimilate and integrate with the norms and structure of white society, their idea of self-determination does not represent the whole, just as those living in remote areas, speaking their traditional language and living a hunter/gatherer existence does not represent all modern-day Aboriginals either.
The same applies to remote communities. Not all of them have the ability to be self-sustainable, those that can should be responsible for “the heavy lifting”.
Economic activity that is driven and financed by the long-term investment of mining royalties and profitable business enterprises (with outside capital, preferably industry super funded finance, until royalty investment has had time to mature), not with those royalty payments as solely the source of economic wealth.
It is not sustainable in the long term and neither is being reliant on government funding … we’ve all witnessed the willingness of the previous WA government to close down remote communities that “they” consider unimportant.
Management of those royalty payments always seems to be a problem.
Short-term agendas dominate, instead of planning and investing in long term, sustainable projects that can continue to provide an income once the ore starts to peter out.
What if a percentage of the royalties were paid into an industry superfund on behalf of all Indigenous Australians?
Each individual of Aboriginal or Torres Island descent would have a retirement benefit and the financial security to “return to country”, or not, later in life, without being influenced by present personal economic circumstances or ever-changing government policies.
This would be separate to the investment of pooled resources, but would help protect and provide individual economic security without affecting the collective direction determined by First Nations people … contributing to the strength of industry super funds also provides a mutual long term benefit.
Pooling royalties and developing self-sustaining economic plans, whether it be development of mineral resources, horticulture, agriculture, traditional art, tourism or animal husbandry, just to name a few examples of potential income providing commercial opportunities that have been proven to work, can give all communities a clear path towards self-determination and a voice in government that carries some weight.
Forget state or territory borders.
Forget regional or cultural barriers or competing interests.
Nothing can be achieved without all First Nations people acknowledging the similarities and main objective of self-determination, namely, that 60,000 years of land possession is not thrown away completely by competing interests internally and non-Aboriginal decision making with limited input from those most affected.
Whether they be the views of those promoting full assimilation with white Australia, those that wish to remain completely within traditional culture or the many positions within those boundaries.
These thoughts are not meant to insult or offend anybody, though I do understand that some people will believe that I’m overstepping the boundaries and should not involve myself in these issues at all. In some ways, I agree with them, but what’s that old saying … “If we don’t all hang together we’ll all hang separately”.
The reason I believe that industry superannuation investment is a fit model to use, is because each business case can be funded or rejected purely on its own merits, without competing agendas or political motivations ever needing to be taken into consideration. Perhaps the direction of industry super fund investment could be new technology combined with techniques familiar to many of those from regional and outback areas.
TARMAC recently invented a permeable cement product that drains water almost instantly. Could this product be exclusively licenced in Australia by an Aboriginal company with industry super fund investment?
This product seems ideally suited to road building in the north of Australia and elsewhere that water drainage is an issue.
Government contracts to build roads, maybe in a partnership arrangement with other entities, can offer skills and long-term employment for many FN’s people, as well as opening up sections of Australia that, due to poor access, may be economically unviable at present.
Not only would this deliver steady wages, profit can also be ploughed back into more investment in machinery and portable infrastructure or related industries. Control of onsite production of concrete, transport, logistics, etc … As well as giving a return to the initial investor or partners.
Given a free hand not restricted by funding from various bureaucratic departments with different agendas, aspects of Tracker Tilmouth’s “food bowl” for central Australia could proceed easily with infrastructure provided by super fund investment.
The advances in solar and wind power with battery storage could, most likely, supply power needs and set an example for the rest of the country in emission reducing, horticultural practice.
Gas pipelines would, in my opinion, allow too much outside influence on the direction of community development by those with little understanding of First Nations people and a profit for profits sake mentality … unless a partnership arrangement was made in some way, with royalties trades off against infrastructure and shared ownership of the gas, with the gas price set at closer to cost, well below international market price.
Like I said before, I have very limited knowledge of the issues involved in creating a self-determined and, reasonably autonomous First Nation’s society, that is all going in the same direction as a collective of people and able to address and respond to social failings and grasp opportunities for development, independent of government.
Does constitutional recognition and a “non-binding” voice in government really provide the necessary framework to develop and foster a collective self-reliance and self-respect that the Aboriginal Australians are entitled to as much as anyone else that lives in our society?
It’s definitely a start and it’s all they are asking for, and the least that they deserve.
One day though, I believe those in power will be forced to see the Aboriginal Australians as an economically powerful group, instead of as a cost, until then, they will, depressingly, always be treated in a paternalistic manner and open to exploitation by those that wish to use them and their hard-won pieces of country, for their own gain.