Abstract: 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.
Notes: ISSN: 1036 1774 ISBN: 0 7315 2612 0 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 in late 1998, the government decided not to continue with the Inquiry and its investigations were not published. This paper summarises some of the evidence given to the Inquiry. The evidence provides information on issues (that people are already aware of) for e.g. (a) a continuing desire to clarify social and commercial goals within Indigenous businesses (b) interest in establishing businesses that are owned by individuals and families rather than just communities; and in the strategy of joint venturing (c) access issues e.g. the ability to raise capital from inalienable land and some of the limits of the existing government structures. Sections within this paper include: (1) Introduction (2) Data (3) Industries and Ingenous Businesses (4) The unit of business ownership (5) Ownership and Success - this is only a short section ( 2 x paragraphs: reporting on the success of loan repayments for Indigenous individual businesses; also reporting that this could suggest that individual businesses might be more successful than community businesses. (6) Joint Ventures - most evidence in the Inquiry came from large mining companies eg Rio Tinto indicating that joint venturing was their favoured strategy and that their mines have stimulated between 28 and 35 indigenous enterprises (though not necessarily joint ventures and sometimes with CDEP assistance) with varying degress of success (Rio Tinto 1998a, 1998b: 196). Although the inquiry revealed some interest in joint ventures, especially from these larger companies, too little detail was provided to make any assessment of the success or merits of the strategy. The Inquiry reported on some indigenous people being interested in Joint Ventures (J.V.) using examples (a) the Marngarr Community in the N.T. (b) the TSRA (c) a J.V. formed in 1989 at Fitzroy Crossing in W.A., using a $1 million loan from the then Aboriginal Development Commission, with the project involving the purchase and operation of hotel, caravan park and supermarket complex. The adult education centre trained workers but the success rate for local employment in the venture was described as very low. Young people were reluctant to work in the supermarket where they could be observed by non-indigenous customers , and in some cases they preferred to return to work in their own community stores after their training (Leedal Pty Ltd 1998). This refects an earlier observation that some people are reluctant to work in jobs in the tourist industry which might involve face-to-face contact with non-indigenous people (Altman 1988). Indigenous employees in the Fitzroy Crossing Hotel faced the complicated factor that as they were its 'half-owners' there was the strong possibility of them being distracted by patrons who were their relatives (Leedal 1998). (7) Social and Commercial Goals - this section discusses the problems experienced when social and commercial goals are mixed within Indigenous business. (8) Access Issues - including Access to Capital (9) Equity, collateral and traditionally owned land (10) Structures to facilitate business (11) Summary & possible further research.