Indigenous economic empowerment is leveraged by an ecosystem of socio-economic opportunities and achieved over time through sustained efforts of self-sufficiency, cultural retention and wealth creation.

Indigenous economic independence pillars
Figure 1: Indigenous Economic Independence Pillars © Markwell and Associates 2018

The pillars of Indigenous economic empowerment are:

1. Connection to country and mob

At the heart of this is identity – Indigenous people’s family, community, culture and country. Connection to country isn’t just a romantic notion. It must and should include land and water rights and in particular the unfettered right to drive economic, social and cultural benefits from their traditional homeland estates. Others have enjoyed these opportunities to build businesses, hotels, tourism ventures etc. in Australia – so should Indigenous people share and enjoy those very same opportunities.

2. A stable home life

A stable home life where you are loved and cared for and given the opportunity and encouragement to grow, learn and thrive. Not just survive. This is a foundation for all children and young people. Data indicates that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children comprise 5.5% of all children aged 0-17 years in Australia; yet in 2015-16 they constituted 36.2% of all children placed in out-of-home care. In all jurisdictions, including and sadly acutely within the Logan region, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on placement orders is higher than that for other children. This is certainly a national and local disgrace. As Aboriginal activist and leader Murandoo Yanner once said ‘no one cares more about Aboriginal children than Aboriginal parents!’

3. Education

Not just access to education but access to the highest quality education. This includes embracing Indigenous pedagogy – educating the Murri way with, by and for Indigenous people.

Nationally, Indigenous Australians retention rates and high school completions are 62% compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts of 85%. This is in part due poor education policies but also intergenerational factors. For instance, many senior Elders within the community have lived half their lives under the ‘colonial ‘protection regime’ in Queensland which legislated they only receive a year four schooling level.

4. Job relevant training

Job first training second supply driven rather than demand driven training is obsolete and should not be accepted or pursued. Aboriginal people are the most trained people in the world. A classic example from previous flawed policies within the Vocational Education and Training sector was chain saw training delivered to Cape York communities when there was no forest industry and worse still five star hospitality courses delivered to the remote Mornington Island Aboriginal community when the nearest five star hotel was over 500 kilometres away.

5. Business ownership and sustainable growth

Entrepreneurialism is not commonplace for younger Indigenous people and rarely was it an option for many community members when they were at school. Even today schools are not built for entrepreneurs rather they are built for workers. Small businesses account for about 860,000, (96%) of all businesses in Australia, and employ about 3 million out of 5.5 million people employed in the private sector.  Of these enterprises, 635,000 (74%) employ fewer than five people. Aboriginal businesses are 9 times more likely to employ an Aboriginal person than a non-Indigenous business. Indigenous business have the additional advantage of ‘the multiplier effect’. That’s is they often further drive Indigenous economic outcomes by partnering with Indigenous people and businesses, employing Indigenous people and sub-contracting Indigenous people.

6. Home ownership and wealth creation

Home ownership and wealth creation but most importantly intergenerational wealth transfer. In that same Queensland protectionist regime between 1897-1967 the government controlled nearly every aspect of Aboriginal people’s lives including their wages and savings, who they could marry etc. A great number of Indigenous people have never seen their pay for a lifetime of work. But some of Queensland’s roads, hospitals and other infrastructure were built on the interest earned from these stolen wages. Many Aboriginal people in this era were simply unable to accumulate and pass on their rightful wealth due to these circumstances.

35% of Indigenous people own their own homes compared with 71% of the estimated seven million other Australians who own homes.

7. Real Employment

But more than that – genuine employment in all sectors (corporate, public and NGOs), disciplines (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), all geographies and importantly at all levels.

Employment can mean many things to many people – part time, casual, full time and seasonal. In the Indigenous context the former Community Development and Employment Program (CDEP) was seen as a real job when in fact it was not. CDEP participants did not enjoy leave entitlements, leave loading and superannuation – a minimum requirement for all mainstream employment. Rather, up to when it was abolished, CDEP was the longest running work for the dole scheme in Australia’s history. Real jobs must include real wages and conditions and be responsive to the individual and employees requirements.