Garma Festival: still much to be achieved in empowering Indigenous Australians

Peter Nash, Chairman, KPMG Australia
Peter Nash, Chairman, KPMG Australia

There’s nothing quite like flying into Gove Airport at Nhulunbuy in East Arnhem Land, a remote and fascinating part of the Northern Territory, and the location for the Garma Festival. Garma is Australia’s largest Indigenous led and Indigenous programmed cultural exchange and is held at Gulkula, a traditional ceremonial meeting ground of historical significance to the Yolngu people of North East Arnhem Land.

The theme of this year’s Garma was land rights and the empowerment that comes with the effective activation of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. Gurrumul Yunupingu noted that there is still much to be achieved in empowering Indigenous Australians through the use of their land and the land rights legislation.

This year, Garma unfolded against the backdrop of media coverage of child detention in the Northern Territory following ABC TV’s Four Corner’s program on this issue. Juvenile detention and human rights was the focus of discussion by Indigenous leaders and politicians at Garma.

Australia’s Indigenous leaders were horrified by the Four Corners Report – and the abuses shown in it but sadly they were not surprised. The issue was not new to them. As leaders like Noel Pearson emphasised, the infringements against juvenile detainees, the vast majority of whom are indigenous, has been happening for a long time. Yet politicians may try to depict this concerning issue as something narrower than it is.

KPMG’s view is that the issues raised by the child detention media reports are symptomatic of a bigger problem: the barriers Australia’s first people face everyday in their efforts to improve their own well-being and opportunities.

The key message I took away from Garma is that economic and social empowerment for Indigenous Australians is critical. KPMG is committed to playing a key role towards that empowerment. Jobs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through our firm’s employment program, providing funding for Indigenous businesses via our procurement program, and the transfer of skills from us to them via our Jawun involvement are three of the tangible ways we support Indigenous economic empowerment.

The central idea of Garma is to facilitate the exchange of ideas and enable participation in a wide array of cultural activities. Now in its eighteenth year, the festival is considered Australia’s Indigenous equivalent to Switzerland’s Davos. It’s a place for shaping policy and developing ideas.

Garma is the vision of the Yothu Yindi Foundation. The Foundation’s is a not-for-profit entity and has a vision for the Yolngu and other Indigenous Australians to have the same level of well being and life opportunities as non-Indigenous Australians.

KPMG shares in this vision and aspiration.

I was privileged to be able to attend the Garma Festival. No matter what you think you know beforehand it is transformed by what you learn when you sit down with Indigenous Australians in this setting. It is confronting to recognise the challenges faced but exhilarating to hear of the progress being made. We must continue to invest in our commitment to supporting empowerment and positive change.

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