First Nations leaders have “a huge sense of optimism” that Australia can break from the past, backed by a new blueprint for economic development.
That is the view of Yawuru man Peter Yu, who last week addressed an event hosted by Australian National University’s First Nations portfolio
“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,” Mr Yu said.
“Without the development of an economic self-determination framework, Indigenous Australians will continue to be second-class citizens in their own country.
“I think critically important in this is we need to consider our economic independence and the self determination that we so justly need to be able to sustain the nature of any constitutional reform.”
Mr Yu points out Australia is the only Commonwealth country to not have a treaty.
However, he is quick to argue constitutional change and Treaty are not the end point, questioning the institutional structures needed to align with First Nations cultural and social values.
Laws to protect the unique knowledge of land, plants and sea country so that traditional owners can benefit would be an important first step, he said last Tuesday.
“Australia is missing out with Aboriginal people not contributing in a far greater way,” Mr Yu said.
“Why are we the poor cousins of New Zealand, our Maori brothers and sisters, and our Canadian brothers and sisters?
“It’s a question that the country needs to ask when it comes to talking about the proposed amendments to the constitution providing recognition and a voice to parliament.”
He said most policy interventions think of First Nations Australians as workers in the mainstream economy, rather than creators of economic value from assets and intellectual property that is uniquely theirs.
Mr Yu said economic self-determination needed to come from “our own” financial institutions and investment.
“The bigger picture is that the ability to ensure the security of stability of local or regional economies has to have the participation and equity of Aboriginal people in those economies,” he said.
“The current situation is unacceptable. It’s not about the sky falling in if Aboriginal people control of their own economic futures.”
“We will continue to explore and expand because there’s a lot of young, very intelligent, intelligent, smart, First Nation kids coming up being well educated and they are going to continue to address this issue.”
New commercial products and free trade agreements that consider Aboriginal interests are urged.
Australia is yet to sign the international Nagoya Protocol that provides a legal framework for sharing the benefits of genetic resources.
“It’s Aboriginal knowledge, cultural knowledge,”‘ Prof Yu said.
“Normally in the process of commercialisation there is an ability to patent and protect the kind of intellectual knowledge that people have, bringing a particular product to market.”
The communique calls for the creation of a new national forum that would focus on economic development and wealth creation from cultural and intellectual property.
The Australian First Nations Economic Forum would “work towards developing an accord incorporating a plan of action to achieve economic self-determination”.
“Negotiating with Australian governments a 21st century policy framework underpinned by self-determination will be its highest priority,” the communique says.
The Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has been contacted for comment.
- Story by Rachel Stringfellow with Marion Rae, AAP