Building better economic outcomes for Indigenous Australians

21 June 2022

Experts from The Australian National University (ANU) have raised alarm bells about the "economic apartheid" facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and are calling for an urgent, nation-wide strategic approach to ensure their economic self-determination.

This is the key theme of a landmark series of events to be held this week and led by the ANU First Nations Portfolio (FNP).

A first for Australia, the forum and symposium will chart the path to First Nations Australians' economic development, wealth creation and a self-determined economy.

Professor Peter Yu AM, Vice-President First Nations at ANU, said Australia remains the only Commonwealth country to have never signed a treaty with its Indigenous people.

"Self-determination is a fundamental right of all peoples, recognised by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia is a party," he said.

"Without the development of an economic self-determination framework, Indigenous Australians will continue to be second-class citizens in their own country."

According to Professor Yu, the lack of progress by Australian governments in addressing significant socio-economic inequality is running at an all-time high. Indigenous Australians are increasingly becoming more asset rich, but remain investment and cash poor.

He says while past policy and legislative frameworks have focused mainly on creating training and employment pathways for Australian First Nations peoples, this has consistently been revealed as a flawed approach.

"It's clear the continued commitment to the same systems by Australian taxpayers is a bad investment," Professor Yu said.

"At a fundamental structural level, Indigenous Australians have less opportunity to determine and control their economic destiny than other Australians.

"This unchanged governmental stance over the past 40 years has, in effect, created a form of economic apartheid, with many outside the mainstream economy having limited avenues to pursue economic development.

"Indigenous Australians are destined to manage a portfolio of rights and assets that are the subject of deliberate development constraints, working only in the mainstream economy in mainly conventional jobs for which, in most circumstances, they are not the ultimate or main beneficiary."

To address these issues the FNP will host two seminal events: a First Nations Wealth Forum on 21 June and the Marramarra murru (creating pathways) First Nations Economic Development Symposium on 22-23 June. 

These events will gather leading thinkers and practitioners from across Australia and the world to drive a national policy discussion on transformative approaches to Australian First Nations economic development and wealth creation. Both events will be live-streamed.

The FNP is a branch of the ANU Executive that works across the University to ensure ANU is a standard-bearer in the teaching and research of First Nations issues. It also strives to ensure the University leads national policy discussions about reforming the relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the nation-state.