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Monday, 20 October 2008
Page: 9619

Mr LAMING (8:56 PM) —I have said in this chamber before that Fred Hollows came a decade early for mainstream Australia, which was not ready for him, and a century late for Indigenous Australia. In fact, in the generation since Hollows, many would say that we have developed a notion in mainstream Australia that Indigenous conditions and the Indigenous environment are either non-viable or less viable for the free market or for new business. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is an enormous challenge but, by the same token, what has come from this inquiry is that small things can make enormous differences. And nothing could be more important than recognising the vital contribution that Indigenous business can potentially make to the economic and social sustainability of remote, regional and urban Indigenous communities.

Let me support the chair and the other members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs—and I note that the member for Bonner is here in the chamber tonight. I recognise the enormous amount of travel that goes with any Indigenous or ATSI report, and also the hard work of the secretariat: Anna Dacre, Loes Slattery, Melita Caulfield, Claire Young and, of course, Pauline Brown, who has already been mentioned. Through some marvellous confluence of events Pauline has managed to time the gestational period of a parliamentary inquiry to coincide with her own parental leave, which I understand started this week.

I would like to refer to some of the recommendations that were not able to be mentioned in the short time that was available to the chair, starting, obviously, by acknowledging the important role that Indigenous business currently plays, and the significantly larger role that it could play if we were to collect the data and the information that would enable us to have a better understanding of the current state of this sector—its structure, location and the economic contribution that it makes. Another recommendation is that there is a vital contribution being made right now to economic and social stability, and that business could certainly play a role in that. We are not talking about offshoots of community groups; we are talking about businesses that can operate under principles of the free market.

I would also like to mention that federal departments and all agencies right across the federal government could do well to coordinate their efforts and better understand the way in which agencies are delivering services and how that affects the potential for Indigenous business to take root. It was also recommended that there be further partnering work with CSIRO, particularly in their areas of natural resource management and carbon emissions reduction, which has been so topical in the last five years and which may well lead to commercialisation opportunities for Indigenous communities.

It was also very clear to the committee that there was a need for additional networking and for a better business networking model that takes into account the diversity of Indigenous businesses across states and territories and between regional and urban areas. Certainly it became clear to us that there was a need for a one-stop shop that allows potential Indigenous businesses, and ones that are in their early stages, to have an assigned case manager—we have a model for that already in Austrade—to allow them to obtain mentoring and business-ready skills and the advice they need on establishing appropriate governance structures that can ensure the sustainability of businesses beyond just three months, six months or a year.

It is also very important, as has been mentioned, to examine further the potential for an Indigenous supplier development council to have potential for microfunding, which would allow, particularly in the remote areas, entrepreneurs to establish enterprises, as the committee’s chair has already mentioned, in tourism and the arts in particular, and that we find ways to encourage Indigenous start-up business, potentially through a review of the taxation system—something I am sure the government will be turning its mind to.

In conclusion, it is important to me that I do not finish without mentioning that substantial economic advancement will also require, in our view, a private sector consciousness being developed within Aboriginal Australia. It is vital that it becomes more and more natural to both accumulate capital and take risks. They were important lessons learnt from this committee.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr KJ Thomson)—Order! I am reluctant to interrupt the member, but the time allotted for statements on this report has expired. Does the member for Corio wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a later occasion?