The dignity of employment and access to entrepreneurial opportunity are as important to Indigenous Australians as non-Indigenous Australians.
If we start from this principle, it is clear the existing national situation is unacceptable.
The Indigenous employment rate today sits at just 46 per cent; a figure that drops to 36 per cent for the one-in-five Indigenous Australians living in remote areas. No progress has been reported in closing the employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians since 2008.
Yet although economics tends to dominate our national debate, it is paid inadequate attention when it comes to Indigenous Australia.
This is more the shame because very tangible and achievable steps to improving economic opportunity have been identified by Indigenous leaders. We simply need to summon the collective will to follow them through.
We know education is critical.
For Indigenous Australians who attain a high level of education, the employment gap vanishes. Yet today only 59 per cent of Indigenous students will stay at school until Year 12, compared to 85 per cent of non-Indigenous students. Improving access to education through needs-based funding of schools, and initiatives to improve access to higher education and training are therefore very important.
However, there are other measures throughout the economic system that can simultaneously be embraced to drive positive change.
Finding better ways to back Indigenous businesses is key, especially when you consider the fact they are 100 times more likely to hire Indigenous Australians than non-Indigenous businesses.
Opening up avenues for impact investing, could help greatly in this area, as would creating new financial structures to facilitate more innovative ways for Indigenous communities to use and leverage their land assets to better provide economic opportunity.
The federal government should, for example, create the Indigenous Community Development Corporation, designed so the Indigenous community can hold assets, make investments, and receive income from royalties.
A 10-year tax holiday for large scale projects in Northern Australia, where a certain target on Indigenous employment is met, also warrants consideration.
The fourth industrial revolution will disrupt the entire global economy, but it will deliver particular challenges and opportunities to Indigenous Australians.
Mobile technology, now ubiquitous in Indigenous communities, could open up new entrepreneurial opportunities for Indigenous Australians living in regional, rural, or remote areas. Improving access to STEM skills, incubator programs, and other networking opportunities is important; as is creating platforms on which to expose Indigenous entrepreneurs to venture capital, angel investors, and other forms of funding.
Our superannuation regime, was designed to serve the needs of all Australians, yet actually contains blind spots when it comes to some aspects of the Indigenous experience.
The average life expectancy of an Indigenous Australian is 67.5 years but access to superannuation benefits is generally restricted to those who have reached the preservation age of 60. The average Indigenous man born between 2005 and 2007 therefore has only 7.5 years to benefit from his super, relative to 18.9 years for the average non-Indigenous man born in the same period.
Given Indigenous Australians are more likely to need access to fund options to provide monies in times of hardship, increasing the $10,000-per-annum limit on accessing financial hardship provisions could ease the distress of individuals, and assist economically-depressed communities.
A common principle that should unite all new initiatives, however, is that they must be Indigenous-led. The role of non-Indigenous Australia, while essential, must primarily be one of support.
Meanwhile, non-Indigenous business should take a careful look at why the employment opportunities they offer elude Indigenous Australians, and take steps to rectify this.
The expansion of intern opportunities and the secondment of personnel to Indigenous communities are concrete steps business can take to make a positive contribution.
Indigenous leaders across the nation have been telling us that government and corporate welfare is often more destructive than helpful.
Igniting economic participation and commercial enterprise is, for Indigenous communities, the best way forward.
Today KPMG Australia is launching Collaborative Ideas for Igniting the Indigenous Economy. Written in partnership with Indigenous leaders and KPMG.
Read it here