INDIGENOUS leader and Gillard government adviser Peter Yu has warned that mining is not the “panacea” that will deliver remote and regional indigenous Australians economic independence and that a new focus must be placed on agriculture, carbon farming and environmental services businesses.
Mr Yu, deputy chairman of the Indigenous Experts Forum set up by the Gillard government to investigate the economic potential of northern Australia, said indigenous communities needed intensive assistance to get them engaged in building businesses that could lift them out of poverty.
At the end of 2010, federal ministers agreed to establish the IEF to provide robust advice on indigenous rights and interests in policy issues relevant to the sustainable economic development of northern Australia.
“It shouldn’t be that we think that the mining industry will be the panacea for all problems with Aboriginal employment, because obviously that isn’t the case. It has to be that these kinds of jobs and policies have to take into consideration the Aboriginal perspective,” Mr Yu told The Australian.
“What is really encouraging is the ministerial forum will look at various scenarios — whether it’s reforming the cattle industry, or emerging carbon farming initiatives, or developing remote arts centres and a learning component around that, or biosecurity in the Top End.”
Mr Yu warned that the “conventional policy approach” had not delivered what was anticipated or expected. “Clearly, here is a need for a paradigm shift that has Aboriginal interests front and centre because the continuing lack of participation remains unacceptable . . . There is a need to identify ways of developing greater resilience and prosperity for communities and fundamentally for communities to become self-reliant.”
He said while the nation had its mind focused on mining-related work, there were opportunities with huge economic potential being left unexplored — particularly in environmental services.
There was “a significant opportunity for the traditional knowledge systems that Aboriginal people have, to marry that with the Western science and methodologies to be able to develop new services in this area”.
He said reform should include giving the corporate sector incentives to mentor Aboriginal business development and opportunities for employment and training.
“The key problems that remain are costs, infrastructure and labour market skilling. What it needs is some creative thinking.”