A Walbunja man from New South Wales’ south coast, Simon Jovanovic, Founder and CEO of the Byamee Institute, is a thought leader tackling Australia’s unfinished business through Aboriginal employment policy research and practice.

A research hub, the Byamee Institute is fostering knowledge about the economic development of Australia’s First Nations peoples.

For Jovanovic, the key to creating effective economic policy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is about first engaging in truth-telling to allow people to reflect critically on Australia’s shared history.

“The main vision and focus for Byamee Institute is to educate,” Jovanovic told NIT.

“Educating non-Indigenous around the continual … colonial policies within Australia; the structure of our government … the way policies are designed and implemented, and the way the system is … in play in terms of economic development.”

Jovanovic said the way policies are implemented in Australia “reflects a system that is in the interest of corporations and the invaders”.

“It’s a system that doesn’t support the interests of First Nations people. And we’re always, either through legislation or through policies, being given the scraps,” he said.

To create real success for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Jovanovic believes Australia’s current economic system needs a good shake up.

“The future is not really in Reconciliation and meeting all these targets for businesses, corporations and having all these fancy policies like Closing the Gap and all these things,” Jovanovic said.

“There needs to be a huge re-engineering of the system.”

“That means changing everything … symbols, policies, legislation, everywhere around the country to really allow Indigenous people to be at the table; to have a say in all of these things.”

Where the Byamee Institute comes in, is educating policy writers in Indigenous affairs across all sectors.

“Anybody that is that involved in Indigenous affairs — community sector, people working in … the private sectors and the public sectors who are engaging with Indigenous communities or Indigenous economic programs and outcomes; that’s the real big focus,” he said.

“There’s quite a number of Indigenous organisations in the health space and in the criminal justice space. But with regards to the economic space across the Australian landscape, there’s very few Indigenous organisations or institutes.

“So, the point of difference that Byamee has across the market or across Australia, is that … we’re there to be the critical voice for Indigenous people.”

Jovanovic said those writing policy must stop viewing First Nations peoples through a deficit lens, instead writing policy that acknowledges and takes into consideration the historical, cultural and social factors that influence the lived experience of First Nations peoples.

“We’ve never ceded our sovereignty — that needs to be understood more by the government and non-Indigenous people.”

By Rachel Stringfellow