Speaking over lunch in ABL’s Melbourne offices, Ian and Amanda were joined by ABL Senior Associate Bridgid Cowling to discuss the importance of empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to not only participate, but to be leaders in the economy.
Alarmingly, one in two Indigenous Australians experience severe financial stress – a reality which Amanda rightly framed as a “national emergency”. The financial exclusion and disempowerment of Indigenous peoples is a product of colonisation and continues to affect communities to this day, from the withholding of wages of Indigenous employees in the 20th century, to the modern predatory practices of financial service providers in remote communities and barriers to access for Indigenous Australians to superannuation and other key financial products.
FNF is a non-for-profit organisation working to break down these barriers to economic access and participation. ABL’s Public Interest and Native Title team has worked with FNF since its establishment in 2006 and remains a proud partner of the organisation.
The strategy for FNF is simple yet powerful. Assisting Indigenous people to participate equally in the economy will lead to improved economic outcomes for Indigenous Australians, which in turn will bolster Indigenous health and education, and greater social and political inclusion.
"Economic empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is not only a question of justice. It also offers a possible solution to some of the cultural and governance issues from which the mainstream Australian economic model currently suffers..."
A significant part of FNF’s work involves designing and running educational and outreach programs that seek to help Indigenous Australians to better understand key financial services, such as superannuation. As part of FNF’s “Big Super Day Out” program, FNF and representatives from leading superannuation funds travel to Indigenous communities across the country to provide information about, and assistance in relation to, superannuation. This year in Kununurra FNF and 15 super fund volunteers broke their record and located $1.5 million in lost super for Indigenous members in just one day.
However, events like the “Big Super Day Out” represent the first step in what FNF sees as a much more far-reaching, long-term process. As Ian emphasised, meaningful, wide-reaching change requires a macro-level response. Targeted, smaller-scale initiatives such as designing financial products specifically for Indigenous consumers, or implementing training and outreach programs, are only part of the solution. Engagement with major financial institutions, such as banks and superannuation funds, is essential to develop a sector-level approach to improving Indigenous economic access and participation. Policymakers and financial service providers must recognise the wider structural barriers, the different cultural contexts and the history of disempowerment that together form a system that operates to the disadvantage of Indigenous Australians. FNF is currently working with leading institutions to do just this.
Economic empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is not only a question of justice. It also offers a possible solution to some of the cultural and governance issues from which the mainstream Australian economic model currently suffers – issues which were forcefully exposed in the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. Greater Indigenous economic participation would create space for differing Indigenous perspectives on money, sharing, leadership and community involvement. As Ian pointed out, this wealth of knowledge is one that, if non-Indigenous Australia is only willing to recognise, it too could benefit from.
(To view more photos from the event, click here).