The Commonwealth Government has extended the time for comment on the draft Indigenous Economic Development Strategy, with the new closing date for submissions being 17 December 2010.
The draft Strategy, released on 24 May 2010, proposes a framework to guide actions, programs and policies for economic development: the Strategy claims to be context specific and targeted at areas of competitive advantage and maximum opportunity for Indigenous Australians. Intended outcomes are a skilled and motivated Indigenous workforce; a strong and viable Indigenous business sector; and an environment that supports greater use and recognition of Indigenous assets and opportunities.
In order to reach these outcomes, the Strategy focuses on five key areas for action:
1. Education and motivation
2. Increasing participation through sustainable jobs
3. Supporting Indigenous business and entrepreneurship
4. Furthering financial security and economic independence
5. Strengthening foundations for economic development
The business and entrepreneurship component seeks to foster private-sector partnership with Indigenous businesses, improving access to capital and using Indigenous businesses through government procurement. The final component, strengthening foundations for economic development, is aimed at creating the right incentives for participation and sustainable economic activity. It spans issues from improved access to housing and infrastructure, to effective use of land and property rights. This area for action canvasses a number of proposals linked to native title outcomes, focusing primarily on using Native Title to harness investment and economic growth for Indigenous communities, with emphasis on sustainable and transparent management of Native Title benefits. (This is the culmination of various strategy papers and Government initiatives on these issues: see for example, Native Title Discussion Paper / Native Title Payments Working Group Report.)
The draft document sketches a critical need for strategies to redress the poverty experienced by Indigenous Australians, enabling them to live a life in fulfillment of their basic human rights, including in respect of economic development. The Government's stated intention of initiating “a new dialogue” in order to promote such development is promising in this regard. However it has also been argued that it is unclear the extent to which Commonwealth policies break from an income management and passive welfare dependency focus, a focus that has “eclipsed the more serious long term discussion of the bigger issues of political economy and delivery of services” (see Walker, Porter and Stafford Smith “Investing in the Outback: A framework for Indigenous Development within Australia”, Academy of the Social Sciences, Dialogue 28, 2/2009, 18-32. Also Altman 2009 Beyond Closing the Gap: Valuing Diversity in Indigenous Australia).
In this regard, interrogation of how the Strategy will provide an over-arching, cohesive, long term plan to forge an economic base for indigenous Australians is critical. Much will also ultimately depend on influencing the detailed Action Plans developed for implementation.