Chapter Five

Economic Development

'A robust and sustainable Indigenous economy is essential for self-determination, independent communities and 'closing the gap'. More Indigenous people than ever are seeking to achieve economic independence by contributing to the economy through the establishment of Indigenous businesses.' Jodie Sizer, PwC Indigenous Consulting.


Economic development includes skills development, business development and employment. It paves the way for improving social and economic participation and is in turn linked to better health and education outcomes.  For this reason, the Australian Government has made economic development a central tenet of its approach to Indigenous Affairs.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been engaging in trade and commerce for thousands of years. Owning a business continues to be an effective way to achieve financial independence for families and communities. Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have growing success in the business sector. Indigenous Australians’ access to and participation in economies across Australia has benefits far beyond the people and communities involved.

Access and participation can be improved by addressing the complex factors linked to economic development. The Australian Government has a primary role to play in delivering initiatives that stimulate economic growth in communities and in the Indigenous business sector. This can only be achieved in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. State and territory governments will continue to have a central role to play in delivering policies and programs to stimulate regional business and support Indigenous businesses.

On Melville Island, an Aboriginals Benefit Account grant enabled development of fabric screen printing at Jilamarra arts centre, which shows how empowerment and economic development can occur through cultural activities.

Translating Policy into Action

The Australian Government is working with state and territory governments to improve economic development outcomes. The Australian Government aims to:

  • Leverage the Australian Government's multi-million dollar procurement through the Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP). Since the IPP commenced on 1 July 2015, over 1,400 Indigenous businesses have won approximately 12,000 contracts valued in total at over $1.8 billion.
  • Provide funds and advice to start up organisations through the Indigenous Entrepreneurs Fund. Since the Fund started, it has provided over $30 million in funding and Business Advisors have provided advice to over 400 Indigenous entrepreneurs.
  • Foster self-employment and small businesses in remote areas through the Community Development Program (CDP) Business Incubator pilot and the expansion of microenterprise support and microfinance services. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will have access to initiatives that improve both business skills and access to capital while linking businesses with community economic priorities.
  • Provide culturally safe spaces for Indigenous businesses to access business support services, short-term office space and connections to commercial opportunities, through Indigenous Business Hubs.
  • Support business development activities through Indigenous Business Australia (IBA). In 2017–18, IBA made 155 business loans totalling $21.6 million, with an additional 69 leases and four producer offset deals valued at a total of $9.6 million. Over 700 customers received business support.

Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion addresses the 2019 Tradeshow which brought together 800 people and 70 businesses.

What are the areas for further development?

The Australian Government will continue to work with state and territory governments, Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses to implement the Indigenous Business Sector Strategy.

The strategy sets out a ten year plan to improve access to business and financial support for Australia’s growing Indigenous business sector. A key initiative for 2019 is the pilot of an Indigenous Entrepreneurs Capital Scheme to unlock a wider range of finance and capital products for Indigenous businesses who are looking to transition to mainstream banking.

The Australian Government is working with state and territory governments to include Indigenous employment and supplier-use targets in major projects, such as roads and infrastructure in city deals. For example, the Cape Leveque road upgrade in Broome, Western Australia exceeded targets to achieve a 68% Indigenous workforce, of whom, 88% are locals. The total dollar value percentage awarded to Indigenous businesses is 56%.

In addition, the Australian Government has developed proposals to reform Native Title legislation to make it more effective and efficient by simplifying processes for claims and management of native title land.

In Central West NSW, major Commonwealth and state infrastructure projects, such as the Inland Rail and Dubbo Rail Maintenance Hub provide Aboriginal communities with opportunities for economic and social prosperity.

Local solutions

In Djarindjin, WA, the local Aboriginal corporation is an innovative Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business operating a helicopter refuelling service, staffed solely by Indigenous workers. The airport is one of a handful of airports in the country with a world-class helicopter hot refuelling service (refuelling while the engine is running).