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Discussion paper

What's new? the 1997 parliamentary inquiry into Indigenous business

Indigenous enterprise development Business Economic development Australia

In 1997, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs commenced an Inquiry into Indigenous Business. However, after a Commonwealth election held late in 1998, the government decided not to continue the Inquiry and its investigations have not been published. This paper summarises some of the evidence given to the Inquiry to see if this increases our understanding of indigenous businesses. The evidence provides additional information on issues about which we are already aware. For example, there appears to be a continuing desire to clarify social and commercial goals within indigenous businesses. There is also some interest in establishing businesses that are owned by individuals and families rather than just communities, and in the strategy of joint venturing. A number of access issues were also raised during the Inquiry such as the ability to raise capital from inalienable land and some of the limits of the existing government structures. However, most of the data supplied to the inquiry were from bureaucracies and much of it related to their programs rather than to the enterprises themselves. Very few submissions were from indigenous people in business and the data tell us almost nothing about such issues as their aims, their problems, or the size of their ventures (for example, the number of employees or turnover). Despite the fact that other data indicate the majority of self-employed indigenous people are in major urban centres (capital cities), the Inquiry collected no data from these areas. Also absent were submissions from any of the mainstream banks. Therefore, the majority of the evidence to the Inquiry does not add a great deal to our knowledge about the nature of indigenous businesses nor does it introduce many new issues or insights. However, evidence to the Inquiry did raise the possibility of increasing access for indigenous people through micro-credit and credit union arrangements and one submission proposed that aspiring business people could be mentored through the facility of business incubators. These proposals may warrant further investigation. The Inquiry has revealed that other data may be available that has not yet been analysed. For example, the Western Australian Department of Commerce and Industry has indicated that it has records on some 1,000 indigenous businesses. Both this Department and the Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islander Commission have suggested that some of the business people with whom they have contact may be willing to be interviewed. It would seem worthwhile exploring these new data sources in the future.

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