First Nations leaders have “a huge sense of optimism” that Australia can break from the past, backed by a new blueprint for economic development.
“The current approach is insufficient,” Professor Peter Yu, a Yawuru man from Broome in the Kimberley region, told AAP.
“Australia is missing out with Aboriginal people not contributing in a far greater way.”
Laws that protect the unique knowledge of land, plants and sea country so that traditional owners can benefit would be an important first step, he said on Tuesday.
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Australian governments and industry are being urged to work with First Nations peoples under a new blueprint, the Marramarra Murru (Creating Pathways) communique, developed at a summit hosted at the Australian National University.
The ANU’s Prof Yu said Australia is at a critical turning point.
“Why are we the poor cousins of New Zealand, our Maori brothers and sisters, and our Canadian brothers and sisters?
“It’s a question that the country needs to ask when it comes to talking about the proposed amendments to the constitution providing recognition and a voice to parliament.”
He said most policy interventions think of First Nations Australians as workers in the mainstream economy, rather than creators of economic value from assets and intellectual property that is uniquely theirs.
“There’s a huge sense of optimism about announcements made by the new Labor government,” he said.
“We’ve felt this very heavy cloud of exclusion and uncertainty lifted, from the politics of the last 10 years.”
But the new way of thinking needs to be built by First Nations peoples with governments as part of the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the communique reads.
New commercial products and free trade agreements that consider Aboriginal interests are urged.
Australia is yet to sign the international Nagoya Protocol that provides a legal framework for sharing the benefits of genetic resources.
“It’s Aboriginal knowledge, cultural knowledge,”‘ Prof Yu said.
“Normally in the process of commercialisation there is an ability to patent and protect the kind of intellectual knowledge that people have, bringing a particular product to market.”
The communique calls for the creation of a new national forum that would focus on economic development and wealth creation from cultural and intellectual property.
The Australian First Nations Economic Forum would “work towards developing an accord incorporating a plan of action to achieve economic self-determination”.
“Negotiating with Australian governments a 21st century policy framework underpinned by self-determination will be its highest priority,” the communique says.
The Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has been contacted for comment.