Discussion paper

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commercial Development Corporation: a new approach to enterprise?

15 Jul 1996

In the late 1980s, the Government introduced the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP), which aimed to reduce the differences in socioeconomic status between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and to reduce Indigenous welfare dependency (Commonwealth of Australia 1987). As one arguable aim of the policy is greater parity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians across occupational categories, there is a requirement to increase the number of Indigenous people who could be classified as employers and self-employed (Daly 1994; Daly 1995). Expressed in other terms, a goal of the AEDP is to increase the number of Indigenous people in business. Involving Indigenous people in business is not a new government strategy for improving their socioeconomic status. Indeed, for at least 20 years the Government has viewed commercial enterprises as a means of furthering Indigenous self-sufficiency and to this end it has devised a number of economic programs (Dillon 1992: 98). However, many of these earlier business programs were marked by a singular lack of success (Office of Evaluation and Audit (OEA) 1991). It has been claimed that this lack of success was often due to a lack of Indigenous managerial skills and because the programs had mixed (social and commercial) and contradictory objectives (ibid.). Legislation in the late 1980s also established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commercial Development Corporation (CDC), whose role was to advance the self-management and economic self-sufficiency of Indigenous people largely by assisting them to become owners of, or stakeholders in, businesses and to accumulate and use a capital base for the benefit of Indigenous people. The general tenor of the CDC's enabling legislation is that the Corporation should operate as a commercial development agency. This suggests an attempt on the part of the government to encourage the CDC and, by extension, Indigenous business people to articulate more closely with the commercial world. Importantly, the CDC's legislation allowed it to pursue its goals by forming joint ventures with Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners and this has been adopted as the Corporation's major enterprise strategy (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) 1996: 12). It is useful at this stage of the Corporation's life to note how its goals and strategies might differ from those of the earlier programs and to assess the success of joint venturing to engage Indigenous people with the world of commerce.

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