National forum to drive First Nations’ economic sovereignty

First Nations leaders have issued a call to action for governments and industry to work with them on building new and better policies that address the " economic apartheid " facing Indigenous Australians.

This includes the creation of a new national forum with a specific focus on economic development and wealth creation for First Nations peoples.

The call comes as part of the Marramarra Murru (Creating Pathways) communique issued today , following a series of landmark events in Canberra hosted by The Australian National University (ANU).

The communique argues new economic policies must complement and build on the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. These policies must be negotiated and agreed between First Nations representatives and governments.

"A new policy framework for First Nations economic development needs to be built by First Nations peoples and Australian governments, which focuses on economic self-determination and is part of the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart," the communique reads.

"Key ingredients for the new policy framework include a strong focus on building trust, flexibility to respond to the diverse needs and priorities of communities across Australia, recognition and support for collective ownership of assets and building capability, particularly with respect to governance."

The communique notes that a growing First Nations business sector, acknowledging Indigenous Australians’ intellectual property, creating better access to international trade and building a First Nations workforce for the 21st century all provide fertile opportunities for economic development.

It calls for the ratification of the Nagoya protocol and a new system to protect First Nations Australians’ intellectual property.

"The intellectual property of First Nations peoples is critically important to their economic development. Its protection will provide a competitive economic advantage for First Nations peoples, which is their right," the communique reads.

"Current legislation in Australia to protect intellectual property is inadequate, confusing and not widely understood by First Nations communities. It puts them at significant risk of sharing traditional knowledge and losing control and ability to gain benefits from it.

"The system should include supporting the development and recognition of Indigenous protocols and new legislation that authenticates Indigenous products and knowledge, protects Indigenous cultural and intellectual property, is adaptable to local and regional contexts and is relevant to the nuances of Indigenous knowledge as a form of intellectual property."

The communique also calls for the creation of the Australian First Nations Economic Forum, which 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 reads.

ANU Vice-President for First Nations Professor Peter Yu said Labor’s commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement provided the best opportunity to get economic policy for First Nations Australians right.

"We are at a critical point in history. As a nation we have an opportunity to address the structural poverty and wealth marginalisation of First Nations peoples, the people who were dispossessed and colonised," Professor Yu said.

"The theft of the country and all its resources from us has left a tormenting legacy and burden. Sir William Deane described it in the High Court’s 1992 Mabo Judgment as a ’history of unutterable shame’.

"This critical need to create wealth obviously needs be addressed in a way that allows us to maintain co-sovereignty over the lands, waters and sea-country that has taken 250 years to reclaim for ourselves and future generations.

"The vast majority of policy interventions think of First Nations Australians as workers in the mainstream economy - not creators of economic value from assets and intellectual property that is uniquely theirs.

"It is incumbent on modern Australia to address this legacy of injustice and inequality.

"We need to recognise and embrace this opportunity to rebuild, reconcile and put in place the building blocks that are enduring for future generations."

Read the full Marramarra Murru (Creating Pathways) communique here.


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