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Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs
06/03/2018
Growing presence of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 'style' art and craft products and merchandise for sale across Australia

COE, Mr Ally, General Manager, Wiradjuri Condobolin Corporation

HARRISON, Mr Joel, Project Manager, Wiradjuri Condobolin Corporation

CHAIR: Welcome. As these proceedings are public, they are being broadcast and recorded by Hansard. If you wish to have evidence heard in private, please let the committee know and we'll consider your request. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I wish to advise you that this hearing is a formal proceeding of the parliament. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of parliament. If you object to answering a question, please state your reasons for your objection and the committee will consider the matter. I now invite either of you or both of you to make a statement to the committee.

Mr Harrison : I'd like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet here today, the Gadigal people within the Eora nation, and pay my respects to elders past and present and the elders from other communities who may be here today. The process we're going to discuss briefly today began not too far from this very spot. Ally and I were walking through Paddy's Market when we came across a stall. A man of Middle Eastern descent with a very thick accent was selling items such as boomerangs and didgeridoos with counterfeit designs, clearly made in China. The WCC, the Wiradjuri Condobolin Corporation, has recently had a lot of success introducing digital apps and resources within language revival. Internally, we started to brainstorm ideas about how we may be able to help. After making our submission and reading through several other submissions to this inquiry, it became very clear that we do not have, nor claim to have, all the answers. However, we believe that, with effective collaboration of all industry stakeholders, we have a very pliable part of the solution.

Our idea, titled 'Indigenous art certification', is both a digital and physical solution to help combat the growing presence of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander style art, craft and merchandise for sale across Australia and the world. Indigenous art certification involves inserting a symbol, and supporting digital platform for the Australian and international market, that identifies authentically crafted Indigenous products as exactly that—authentic—giving customers and stockists assurance that they are buying authentic, culturally appropriate products and are therefore supporting Indigenous communities and giving artists and craftspeople the respect and compensation they and their creations deserve. We believe that, with correct implementation and uptake, this logo has the potential to become as trusted and as identifiable as the green and gold Australian Made logo or the Heart Foundation 'tick of approval'.

To be successful, this implementation must be supported by several things: an option that is at no to little cost for artists and creators to implement; platforms that are easily accessible for all stakeholders; a commitment by government to implement and support the initiative in its infancy; a solution that is well supported, both physically and digitally; an aggressive marketing strategy to engage and educate consumers; joint ventures, partnerships and essentially a broad industry alliance with stakeholders such as the Department of Communications and the Arts, art laws, the Aboriginal Art Association, Tourism Australia and the like; and, finally, a licensing model for larger or mass produced items that can support the initiative and creators in perpetuity.

Due to the nature of today's address and to protect our solutions and intellectual property, we are unable to go into detail or specifics regarding our solution. We are aware of the previous government's supported attempt to launch a similar logo into the marketplace and its shortcomings, particularly cost and broad acceptance. However, we are confident that our solution's design is culturally appropriate, respectful and adaptable to each artist and community while being scalable for international use, prosperous for artists, creators and stakeholders to implement and provides authenticity and accountability through documentation of works. It is a process allowing minimal obstruction to artworks and craft at point of sale, it is affordable for all stakeholders, has ease of online administration, implements the power of a digital platform to document and educate buyers, and, finally, is adaptable to licensing as well as private dealers and galleries to gain broad sector support.

Indigenous arts is a multi-million-dollar industry that supports communities, artists and Australia's economy and the tourism industry. It should therefore be effectively strengthened, protected and authenticated by the appropriate stakeholders. We invite any interested departments, governmental or otherwise, to schedule a meeting with us to discuss in depth and strategise a way to maximise and implement our concept. Thank you for your time.

CHAIR: Thank you. Mr Coe, did you want to add some words?

Mr Coe : What was read out was the collaboration of both of us on the way down. We had only a short period of time.

Mr Harrison : I'll also add that WCC does a lot of work with Indigenous language. When we started to internally brainstorm, we came up with a solution. I sent that to our contract manager at the Department of Communications and the Arts, who said, 'You should submit it.' It's not a space that we're overly knowledgeable in, but we still feel that the solution would be applicable, and that's how we ended up here today.

CHAIR: It probably needs somebody on the outside of this circumstance, not having any of the history of what's been tried before, to come up with an innovative solution. I understand why you can't share the absolute details of that right here. That makes perfect sense. I have two questions while my colleagues are considering theirs. When you say 'the correct implementation', was sorts of steps do you mean? You outlined some, but could you expand on those?

Mr Harrison : There are several. Consumer education would have to be a large one, as well as purely meeting with the artists and the creators themselves. Coming at it from a language perspective, which, as I mentioned, is what we know, we deal with four languages in our language program. Each action and thing that we do with a language is purely bespoke to that language. It would have to have that approach and still be adaptable within a framework. First and foremost, it means meeting with the artists and the creators and also educating consumers as to what the mark means and how they research it further.

CHAIR: When you say that the solution design that you've developed is, you believe, culturally acceptable, how did you measure that whilst keeping it close to your chest, so to speak? If you wanted to do a future survey to find out if it were acceptable nationally, how would you protect your property rights over it?

Mr Harrison : That's a good question. Obviously we'd have to discuss with our legal team how we would protect that. I'm not a lawyer, so I can't really answer that, unfortunately. We said we believe that it would be culturally appropriate; obviously it may not be for certain nations or artists. I think any approach has to be flexible to work.

CHAIR: Does it lend itself to being a little flexible?

Mr Harrison : I believe so. Our elder in residence is Dr Stan Grant. I was showing him the gist of the idea last week and he didn't seem to bring up anything that he thought was culturally inappropriate. With the way our language program is structured, all the decision-making is purely on the community and the language reference groups that we work with. So that could be something that could be modelled in a capacity to arts and crafts.

CHAIR: That's got a good application because you can take it to different communities for their input.

Mr Harrison : Each community is different, so they should be treated differently.

CHAIR: How do you feel about the establishment of a nationally recognised logo or indicative symbol of authenticity?

Mr Harrison : I think it's good. That would be part of our solution.

CHAIR: Did you explore if it were fully produced in Australia with an Indigenous design by an Indigenous individual or family versus a licensed Indigenous product? Does it lend itself to being qualified?

Mr Harrison : I think it does. Once again, this solution that we developed—the idea is in its infancy. I kind of explained how we got here today. It was more of a solution we thought could work or at least help solve the issues we experienced down at Paddy's Markets. Obviously our language work is where the majority of our work is done at the moment, so we have to focus on that because that is also a very important issue.

CHAIR: From a personal perspective—I'll thank you from the committee later—I think to explore that concept, as you've done, is a really good step forward. Thank you for being part of this inquiry.

Mr SNOWDON: Thank you. Have you had any interaction with other arts advocacy organisations?

Mr Harrison : No, we haven't. It was quite an education reading through a lot of the submissions we were able to read because we are, like I said before, completely new to this space, which can be viewed as a positive or a negative. Sorry to harp on about the language, but that's what we have experience in. That's kind of where we've found our strength—by talking to each language group and asking, 'What would you like to achieve and can we make it happen through our funding?' That's kind of how we operate.

Mr SNOWDON: Thank you.

Ms CLAYDON: Thanks for your evidence this afternoon; it's much appreciated. Where are you physically based?

Mr Coe : Central New South Wales—smack bang in the middle, in Condobolin. It's about an hour away on the other side of Parkes.

Mr SNOWDON: It's close.

Mr Coe : They call it God's country.

Ms CLAYDON: You might have heard some of the discussions earlier this morning; I'm not sure if you were here—

Mr Harrison : We weren't here, unfortunately.

Ms CLAYDON: I'm not sure if you're aware that there have been in other times some attempts at some different ways of labelling to promote authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts in Australia. They haven't always succeeded. Are you aware of what the pitfalls might have been for those previous labelling efforts and where yours differs, in the hope that it won't fall over like the previous ones have?

Mr Harrison : I've read a small amount on them. I believe it was 2009 when it wrapped up.

Ms CLAYDON: Yes.

Mr Harrison : Obviously, having a digital aspect to our solution would add another strength. From what I've read previously, a lot had to do with the cost of establishing it and also the broad sector acceptance of the solution that they were trying to put in place. To be honest, that's something we'd have to look into a lot more to give a definitive answer. But I believe it would have to have the correct implementation to work.

As I mentioned before, consulting with artists and creators would be the first point, because what I see is wrong with it isn't important; it's what the artists see is wrong with it. It's the same with the galleries or the people that are licensing the items—why they didn't take that up. But I think that in a lot of cases having a digital aspect can reduce cost in a lot of ways, which was one of the points as to why it failed. As I mentioned before, we're very new to this space. It was purely a problem where there was a solution and then we ended up here.

Mr Coe : Being in the organisation involved in this, I think our participation here today, hopefully, allows us to connect with other groups that have been involved.

Ms CLAYDON: Yes. There's been a lot of experience sitting in this room over the last few hours.

Mr Coe : There's a fair amount of experience, and we'd love to be able to connect up with some people who have been involved for a hell of a lot longer than we have.

Ms CLAYDON: Yes. There are probably opportunities for some partnership work there. Thank you very much for taking the time to travel here this morning and give evidence.

Mr Harrison : We appreciate that it's a little bit hard to discuss when we can't tell you the overarching idea as well.

Ms CLAYDON: That's right. We all await it with bated breath. Thank you.

CHAIR: I want to touch on a point I wasn't aware of until earlier today, which is that there was some resistance from the artists themselves, as in: 'Why should I have to brand my work as authentic? Just get rid of all the other stuff.' How would you deal with that situation?

Mr Harrison : I think consumer law would have to play a part, in making it illegal to sell fake items.

Mr Coe : I think locally, from our small community and our organisation, we do have a number of local artists producing what we consider to be pretty good stuff. But we tend to display it locally for all the visitors we get from overseas. Our organisation is only a small one, but in the last 13 years we've been able to get to a level where we get visitors from all around the world, if it's only to visit our little town to see what they all call a big mudbrick building. It's what we operate out of, a centre made out of compressed earth, red clay, built by 16 of our young kids from the local area, and it has become a tourist attraction. So we really haven't hit the big time yet in terms of the arts. We have an elder out there who creates boardroom tables out of river red gum. I think one of his first tables actually sold for about $40,000. The table that sits in the centre is just a masterpiece; it really is. People are asking questions about that. I think anyone who comes to the centre always request that the old fella do something for them. At the moment we are not at the level where we have to look at all the issues you just mentioned but I know that very soon we will be in a position where we have to look at them.

CHAIR: Have you got other artists other than the big boardroom table manufacturers, smaller pieces that are picked up by tourists? How would you feel if there was a nationally recognised logo to say that this was produced by a fair dinkum Indigenous person? How would you feel about using that—without feeding them words—if there were a benefit to them to get into a market? It would be worthwhile to hear from your people who have actually not entered that market yet and whether they would see a benefit of having that or whether they would feel imposed on by using a nationally recognised logo?

Mr Harrison : It is not going to be taken up by all artists as there are a lot of people making things in Australia that don't use the 'Made in Australia' logo. It is not going to be taken up by everyone and that should be the option of the artist. But obviously for the education of consumers, a symbol like that would help authenticate the art but, once again, it would be up to the artist.

CHAIR: Do you mean an opt-in system?

Mr Harrison : Yes, I think so; and obviously if it was met by something in consumer law that outlawed selling fake Indigenous art and crafts. It would need to be a multi-pronged attack on the issue. It would just be one solution.

CHAIR: One part of it.

Mr Harrison : Yes.

CHAIR: I really do appreciate you coming.

Mr Harrison : Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Always when you have someone with a different perspective, it helps to put you outside that box.

Mr Harrison : And I would hope the other submitters don't view that as offensive. From our position, it was purely something we sent to the department which said: could this work?

Mr SNOWDON: Just relax.

Mr Harrison : Yes. Like Ally said, a lot of people that have submitted are in the room and they have a lot more experience than we do.

Mr SNOWDON: We are very grateful that you put the submission in so thank you.

CHAIR: And I think a lot of the other groups would be happy to have different perspectives thrown into the discussion. Thank you for your attendance at today's hearing. If you have been asked to provide any additional information or if there is anything else you would like to provide, please forward this to the secretariat by 20 March. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence to which you may suggest corrections.