Doing Indigenous Social Business and Enterprise: 

the View from Cape York

Address to the Indigenous Enterprise Summit

Canberra - 21 May, 2003

Richard Ahmat - Executive Director, Cape York Land Council

Let me first acknowledge the traditional owners of this land.  To the Ngunawal and to all of our friends here today, I bring warmest greetings from our people in Cape York Peninsula . 

When I visited the Social Entrepreneurs Network web site, I saw that a big picture of Noel Pearson is currently displayed.  Then I saw that there was a picture of me, and I felt like I was portrayed as the main attraction of this summit.  It feels intimidating, but it is testament to the fact that Noel’s efforts in Cape York Peninsula have caught the attention of the nation.  The Social Entrepreneurs Network has played a great role in that.  I want to thank you for your support and for organising today’s Indigenous Enterprise Summit.

Noel Pearson, winner of the inaugural “Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award”, has opened up new opportunities for indigenous people like me. I don’t mean career opportunities in yet another “Aboriginal industry” that is preoccupied with servicing our dysfunction.  Noel has added a new quality to our lives.  Let me explain how.

Australians used to talk about “smoothing the pillow of the dying Aboriginal race”.  The racism of that idea has been thrown on history’s scrap heap, but the underlying pessimism of that attitude survived in a strange way.  Most people who accepted us as equals in principle, still didn’t expect any solution to our endemic problems.  Least of all a solution worked out by indigenous people.

Personally I have always been working in the real economy and have had real jobs.

Still, I belonged to a people that were by and large irrelevant to the nation’s future.

Try to imagine belonging to people that by definition is a burden on the budget.

Things are still bad in indigenous Australia and in many places getting worse.  I would be hard to show with statistics that my people has started inching their way back into the real economy.  But I think it will happen.  Many people now expect great things of us, because of Noel.  Some people will say that I am an idealist when I talk about inspired leadership.  That I give the privileged classes an opportunity to dodge their responsibility.

We must remove Aboriginal disadvantage with improved service delivery, they say.  But I maintain that having high expectations of somebody is the greatest service that can be done to him or her.  And a lack of expectation kills.

I hope I don’t sound like a “motivational speaker” who believes that a change in non-indigenous and indigenous people’s attitudes will lead to quick results. Let me be the first to say that we in Cape York are a long way from acting on the vision we have for our people’s future. Like indigenous groups across the continent, we start from a low base.   Our people are mired in social dysfunction and economically we are neck deep in dependency.  I also want to stress that we still demand our economic and cultural rights.

Our vision include the following two ideas:

Firstly, that we have an inalienable right, as one of the two peoples in this country, to take our rightful place in the social and economic life of this country.  We disavow a right to dependency, we have the right to economic independence as far as active citizens in our society can be independent and responsible for their own destiny.

Secondly, that we want our children to be bicultural, and bi- and multilingual, and that we retain our cultural heritage in its fullest vitality, whilst at the same time being fully educated and engaged in the opportunities of the wider world.

This is an ambitious vision.  But ambitious it must be. It would not seem so ambitious if our people were functional.  After all bilingualism is well known in Europe .  Why should we submit to the miserable idea that our children must choose between assimilation and retaining their culture, between their own language and English?  Why could not our children flourish in two worlds and move with facility and creativity between them?

  And it is our determination to refuse to bend to the fatalism and second-rate expectations of those who believe that the cultural dilemmas facing our people as hunter-gatherers living in a radically opened-up world can’t be resolved.  After all we are not fatalistic about many indigenous footballers in the Australian Football League or the National Rugby League being unable to compete on the same playing field as others.  We do not have second-rate expectations of our athletes.  We do not expect Patrick Johnson’s sub 10-second Australian record to be the result of an indigenous discount in the length of the track.  Rather we know our people must and can compete.

But when it comes to education and economic participation we don’t have the same ambition and expectation of the capacity of our people that we have for our achievements in sports and the arts.  Our young people thrive in competition, discipline and high expectation – be it artistic or athletic – but in education, employment and enterprise we nurture a culture of low expectation and excuse making, which really betrays a lack of belief in our own people and ourselves.

This pessimism, this lack of belief, this resignation, is a culture amongst our people and in the wider Australian culture.  It is reinforced and perpetuated by our own people and the wider society.  It infects the expectations of the whites and the outlook of the blacks. This culture is so pervasive and powerful that it convinces our people that economic participation and wealth creation is not for our people.   It amounts to a fatal conclusion: capitalism and black fellas are mutually exclusive to each other.  And worse than that: the idea that the cultural challenges facing our people’s participation in market society represent cultural contradictions that are insurmountable.  We should just resign ourselves to welfare dependency, because we can never develop economically and retain our identity and culture.   To change this thinking is what Noel’s work is about.  It is this outlook that we utterly reject in Cape York Peninsula . 

We do not believe that there is any fatal contradiction between our culture and identity as an indigenous people and the development of a real economy.  Indeed we argue that the greatest threat to the long-term survival of our culture is our passive welfare economic condition.  It is our situation of dependency, which is breaking down our social fabric, and this social breakdown is resulting in the loss of our languages and our culture.  The cultural traditions of socially dysfunctional people will not last long in this world – they will soon pass away.  Cultural survival therefore makes economic development imperative.

This is not to say that we do not acknowledge enormous challenges facing our people in confronting economic development in the modern world in which we hunter-gatherers now find ourselves.  We are keenly aware of them.  We know that we must find solutions to these real challenges, problems and dilemmas.  This morning I will discuss some of these fundamental barriers to enterprise and economic development facing our people, and I will outline some of the strategies that we are in the process of developing in response to these realities.  Before talking about these barriers I will first answer the question:

Why enterprise and social business?

On the Social Entrepreneurs Network home page there is a link to a speech I made last year to the Fred Hollows Foundation conference. I was surprised to see the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of that conference.  Most prominence was given to some comments critical of Noel.  “Noel Pearson view comes under fire” was the headline.

“The argument by Cape York leader Noel Pearson and others that Aborigines in remote communities can achieve economic self-sufficiency by becoming entrepreneurs and small businesspeople is dangerous and wrong, Indigenous development worker Olga Havnen said”.

"I think it is dishonest and will prove to be another self-sabotaging, self-defeating initiative".

“It was more important to focus on the crisis in education which perpetuates poverty and poor health, she said.”

“Low literacy levels, and the fact that most small businesses fail within five years, showed that those pinning hopes on entrepreneurship as a solution were going to be sadly disappointed".

"We need emergency remedial programs. If you are going to overcome socio-economic disadvantage in Aboriginal communities, it has to come back to education, she said”

“A lack of political will, combined with poor resourcing, were the real causes of a failure to bring about real change.”

"What is happening in this country is genocide by neglect.”

“Smart thinking is needed, such as that behind a Fred Hollows Foundation primary school nutrition program at Beswick.”

“Providing breakfast and lunch at school, was largely paid for with contributions made by families from their family support payments, she said.”

Of course I agree that it is excellent that parents are contributing to making the children able to attend school.  Noel said last year that the government can’t feed hungry school children the first thing in the morning and relieving parents of such fundamental duties.  There are other things that Olga Havnen said that are more problematic. What is happening is not only “genocide by neglect” and insufficient funding.  Indigenous dysfunction has increased in a way that can’t be explained by dispossession and lack of funding.  There has been an explosion of passive welfare and substance abuse epidemics.

Noel wrote recently that for the last three and a half decades, we have blindly made one decision after another that fuels those fires.  Many of those new factors, such as entitlements and the right to drink are unavoidable if we remove discrimination, as Bill Jonas pointed out.

But we have failed to develop a regional indigenous leadership that could meet this challenge.  Progressive white people correctly supported our rights but also failed to se the emerging disaster.  Improved service delivery with indigenous participation will not be enough when the hurricanes of substance abuse and passive welfare dependency are turning our communities upside down. The first step towards restoring social order is to acknowledge that it is not enough to “work in partnerships with communities and improve service delivery by taking a co-ordinated, whole-of-government, holistic approach to service delivery".

Mainstream society is so strong so it can provide services for addicts and other dysfunctional people without a long-term strategy.  The economically and socially functional majority is sufficiently large.  And in spite of scandals, political and corporate leaders are by and large honest.  But we have to acknowledge that in indigenous communities, the policy must be to be biased in favour of a struggling group of functional community members and to be determined in our resistance against abusive people. We have to acknowledge that our vulnerability has attracted non-indigenous parasites.  Imagine living in a community where the white council clerk produces illicit drugs.  We have to acknowledge that there is an Aboriginal industry that is dependent on the perpetuation of our dysfunction like farmers depend on rain.  It includes passive welfare services delivery industries in government, non-government and indigenous organisations. I spoke about that last year I will not repeat it here.

Lots of people are talking about health funding that matches need and renewed efforts in education such as the project Olga Havnen described.  But in spite of Noel, there is too little discussion about the internal and external threats I mentioned.  It is true that “the Aboriginal industry” is a common expression, but I think it is regarded as being the property of assimilationists of the political Right. Olga Havnen also said that it is wrong and dangerous to say that remote communities can achieve economic self-sufficiency by becoming entrepreneurs and small businesspeople.

We work with small business development in areas as remote as the west coast of Cape York Peninsula , but of course it is important to discuss the fact that many of us live in areas where it is difficult to engage in the real market economy even if you are a completely functional person. 

Most opportunities for jobs, income and careers will lie outside of Cape York Peninsula .

Members of the Bennelong society have suggested large-scale migration to cities and large towns.  It is true that many nations have experienced mass emigration.  However, I don’t think that is realistic to expect an entire people leaving their homes.   How could we survive such a collective heartbreak?

Noel has been talking about the concept of ‘orbits’ as a solution to the fear that we will we lose our culture and identity if we embrace western education and move to economic growth centres. Cape York Peninsula people can embark upon orbits of their own choosing – according to their own talents, interests and desires – but they can maintain their identities, culture and links with their home base.  Education enables people to succeed at home and in the wider world, and will allow people to return home regularly.

So our policy must be:

Restoring social order.  Noel had opened people’s eyes to the fact that social order is in many places not a new concept, or something that’s missing since dispossession.    Many of our grandparents and parents built a new life in the mission, but these achievements have been squandered during the period of passive welfare.  Using every opportunity we can find to develop a real economy, because we cannot break our connection with the land.  But our home must be a home base for mobile, functional people rather than a jail.

Let me now turn to:

The barriers to economic enterprise by our people

Our goal in Cape York , to move Aboriginal families and communities beyond passive welfare dependency and to develop a real economy for our people, is not the first attempt. 

Ever since the people of Cape York Peninsula were gathered together into missions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, missionaries and governments after them made many attempts to develop enterprises that could make communities self-reliant or at least to supplement their livelihoods.

For more than 100 years numerous enterprise endeavours were tried.  Some were successful for a time, many struggled, many more failed.  All of the communities of Cape York can point to a history of renewed efforts to build an economic base, but by the beginning of the new millennium most of these attempts were history.   Whilst communities operate some enterprises, - the fact is that our people in Cape York are more dependent today than they were during the Aboriginal Reserve days.

Enterprise attempts in the early days faced almost impossible odds: limited or no access to land, poor land, discrimination in the wider community, poor education, discriminatory control by government, in short complete dispossession

Whilst many of the old impediments still remain, there are many more opportunities available to our people today.  These opportunities began to open up after citizenship and there was more focus on our problems by government and the wider community.  This was also the time when passive welfare provisioning became the predominant government response to our social and economic marginalisation.

Perhaps the biggest difference between our situation prior to passive welfare and our situation today is that we have had a couple of generations of our people disengaged from work in the real economy. This has meant that many of our people have failed to gain work experience and skills.  Whilst the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) counteracted some of the effects of our passive welfare dependency - this has not been the same as real jobs in the real economy.  So many of our young people have little experience of work in the mainstream and they lack skills, confidence and the habits necessary to take and keep jobs.

Enterprises, large and small, have proven very difficult to develop and sustain.  Whilst many enterprises have failed, many more have not been able to get off the ground.  Even obvious and straightforward enterprises cannot get started.  In my address this morning I will briefly identify those key factors that impede Aboriginal enterprise development.  The focus is on those factors that are particular to Aboriginal enterprise development.  Of course there are other factors relevant to enterprise success – viability, markets, remoteness etc – which are also relevant.  These factors would result in enterprises struggling or failing regardless of whether they were undertaken by Aboriginal people.  What I am concerned with here this morning is identifying those factors that are barriers to Aboriginal enterprise.

Our governance, ownership and decision-making structures as a barrier

Failure to sort out ownership is a frequent reason for enterprise failure.  In the wider community, people who have a business idea and the means to develop their idea can develop their own enterprise at their own initiative.  It is not as straightforward in Aboriginal communities.  This is because Aboriginal people are invariably members of wider family groups and communities, and individuals are not completely free to undertake private enterprise.  Many assets (land being the primary example) are not capable of being privately owned by individuals – they are communally held.  Similarly, opportunities are frequently seen as communal assets – belonging to clan groups or to communities, not to individuals.

There is therefore a frequently unresolved tension between private enterprise and communal assets and opportunities.  This often results in privately owned enterprises being resented or opposed by community members or organisations.  It results in many enterprise opportunities not being developed because of disputation or opposition on the grounds that the opportunity that is proposed to be taken up "belongs to the community, not to the private individual".

Where private enterprises do operate, it is frequently because the operator is influential within the community, and is prepared to withstand opposition.  Private enterprises are therefore the subject of sometimes intense community politicking.  The usual and least controversial approach to enterprise development is for the community to own enterprises for the benefit of all members. But countless community-owned enterprises have failed.

There are enterprises, which are successfully owned and operated by communities: such as supermarkets, canteens and service stations.  However many community-owned enterprises have failed because, at the end of the day, no one took responsibility for them and the necessary effort, diligence and extra necessary work was not put into them.  One of the reasons for the frequent failure of enterprises is the lack of incentive arising from the ownership of the enterprise.   Insufficient thought is given to incentive and reward when Aboriginal community enterprises are conceived. 

Community ownership often has the following results:

  • People managing and working for community enterprises don’t take full responsibility for the success of the enterprise.  This is because managers and employees who receive a salary don’t have a stake in the success of the enterprise: they get paid whether or not the enterprise does well.  The difficulty of recruiting good managers to work in communities and the difficulties of removing and replacing poor performing local staff means that it is difficult to extract full responsibility from people working for community enterprises
  • There is no ultimate and clearly responsible owner of community enterprises – who can demand responsibility and performance from managers and staff - other than "the community" acting through a community organisation, such as the Community Council.  Nowadays community members have a diminished regard for the notion of the "community" and communal assets are regarded as something to be exploited.  Whilst community members elected to positions of responsibility in community organisations are supposed to be taking ultimate responsibility for the community‚s assets – this responsibility often takes second place to other considerations.  The success of community enterprises is therefore highly dependent upon the personal commitment of managers and staff, who are prepared to work for the community interest (and to make personal sacrifices).

There are many failed enterprises owned and operated on behalf of a community, which are likely to have succeeded if they were privately owned.  This is not to say that community ownership of enterprises is not workable and appropriate for many enterprises.  Community ownership will be appropriate with some enterprises, however, where there has been perennial failure in certain enterprises – it is likely that the lack of incentive explains the failure.  The point is to ensure that in planning enterprises in Aboriginal communities, the issues of incentive and reward need to be properly analysed. 

In this respect, Aboriginal enterprises differ little to mainstream enterprises – incentive is still a key ingredient to motivation and success.

Cultural match – make wealth like white fellas, distribute wealth like black fellas

There is a lot of talk nowadays about the need for “cultural match” in indigenous governance that is that the structures should match the cultural arrangements and realities of indigenous groups if they are to be successful.  There is no doubt much truth in this.  However, I would temper the idea that our governance structures must be made to suit our social and cultural arrangements.  In relation to business organisation, we must also ensure that our governance structures suit successful enterprise operation and management.  Indigenous social and cultural imperatives often result in the creation of decision-making and ownership structures that make enterprise ownership and management inefficient, unwieldy, impossible.  In fact I am prepared to argue that the overwhelming majority of indigenous enterprise structures are unsuited to successful business – and are completely unrealistic about commercial realities.

Indigenous decision-making structures are about social and political representation, whereas optimum business decision-making should be about expertise, experience, knowledge and talent.  Indigenous decision-making structures are large and exclusive, whereas optimum business decision-making is exclusive, lean and aimed at efficiency.  Indigenous groups contemplating enterprise find it hard to face up to the business realities concerning decision-making and management – and therefore develop community governing structures instead of business-oriented structures.

There are two solutions to this issue.  Firstly, we must separate ownership from management, so that even if a group or community is the ultimate owner of an enterprise – the management structure is established along business lines.  In this way we let the best cake-makers operate in the kitchen and we stay out of their way.  The rest of us – the owners – only get involved when the cake is made, and it’s time to work out how the dividends are to be distributed for the benefit of the group.

Secondly, we must be prepared to recognise talent, experience, education, skills and passion – rather than political and cultural considerations – when we select those who are charged with the management of our enterprises.  This is about getting the best people as directors to run your business.  It also means that external directors who are independent and disinterested should be attracted onto the boards of indigenous enterprises.  The point is that we should separate functions so that we make wealth like white fellas, but we distribute wealth like black fellas.

The best example of an optimum enterprise-owning structure is the Morr Morr Cattle Company – formerly called Delta Downs – near Normanton in the Gulf of Carpentaria .  Since this property was purchased by the ADC in the 1980s it has operated as a successful enterprise.  It is in fact one of the few indigenous-owned cattle enterprises in the country.  The key to their success in my view lies in their creation of an enterprise structure where the board of directors consisted of people with expertise and experience in running a cattle business.  They have separated the landowning community structure from the enterprise operation structure.  And the enterprise structure has always had independent directors whose function is not cultural but commercial.

This brings me to the underlying caution that I have about making families respectable in indigenous policy.   Families have been largely overlooked in Aboriginal policy.  Whilst the extended families of traditional Aboriginal society are viewed positively, more often ‘families’ in Aboriginal communities conjure up images of organisational nepotism and family disputation and rivalry in community politics.  This family versus that family. The transformation of families from a positive to a negative image, is a recent phenomenon in Cape York .  Like elsewhere in Australia , Cape York communities have experienced a trend towards rivalry, negativity and the breakdown of social trust.

As the intensity of community politics has risen in recent years – especially when we took over the management of our own organisations and affairs with self-management – ‘families’ have gained more and more pejorative connotations.  Families are associated with bias, unfairness, blind loyalty and corruption.  Critically, families have come to be seen as innately anti-community because family imperatives (loyalties, obligations) make impartiality impossible.  It seemed that successful community required the suppression of families.  Where families were dominant, the community suffered.

There is no doubt much truth to the aspersions cast on families in the conduct of community affairs.  However, these well-known problems with family politics in Aboriginal communities should not lead us to the view that families are hopelessly problematic.  Rather we should look to the problems that arise from an approach to governance in Aboriginal society that has an overwhelming emphasis on ‘communities’ and no recognition of families.  The proto-communist conception of Aboriginal society that dominated Aboriginal affairs policy in the past, was simplistic and wrong.  It ‘flattened’ Aboriginal society into a homogeneous community of people – like inmates of an institution.  Whilst obligation to the common good and concern for and identification with a community wider than one’s family, are, without doubt, most important values, the ‘community’ became the sole focus of formal policy and family motivations became increasingly illegitimate.

Furthermore, with the transition to self-management, resources were granted by government to, and came to be controlled by, community structures, principally the Community Councils.  These community structures came to be the repository and distributor of the great proportion of the resources and opportunities available to community members.  Governments transferred resources through grant funding to these community structures.  Control over these community structures became the subject of increasing importance as contests over resource and opportunity allocations (jobs, houses, use of community assets and so on) became more intense.  Bias towards family members in the allocation of resources became the subject of more and more complaints against those controlling community structures.  Great pressure was brought to bear on family members in positions of responsibility to prefer family members.  Community leaders were said to be torn between community responsibility and family obligation, which were at odds with each other.  Disputation between families increased and the politicking around community structures has grown to torrid levels.  Most tellingly, the word ‘nepotism’ entered into the lexicon of community politics very early in the self-management process.

Today the family politicking and distrust focused on community structures is one of the most debilitating features of community governance.  Families are forced to behave in ways destructive of community interests and values – because that is what the systems through which the community is expressed and operates, necessarily requires.  There is a dysfunctional relationship between family and community when the sole focus of policy is on the mechanisms of community.  Families do not have their own independent means of taking their own responsibility and accessing resources without negotiating through the political hoops and stresses of community. They are necessarily jockeying with other families for these resources and opportunities.  Under the current system, successful community requires an unnatural suppression of family – and this has not led to successful community.  It has in fact turned family responsibility into family selfishness and chauvinism.

1.   Our lack of expertise, experience, support institutions and networks as a barrier

Of course our people also lack expertise, experience, support institutions and networks that make for successful enterprise.  This is well appreciated by everyone here today.  In Cape York we have worked with private and philanthropic sector partners to create Indigenous Enterprise Partnerships.  One of the main functions of IEP is to provide the support from the private and philanthropic sectors to indigenous enterprises.  The IEP is our interface with these supporters and networks, and is the channel for expertise, mentoring, advice and financial support.

2.   That all of our assets are in the form of dead capital is a barrier

Another barrier is that we lack capital.  The great majority of our assets are tied up in dead capital.  We can’t use our buildings, land, resources and other assets in the same way as other people in the Australian economy.  Land and buildings represent capital in the Australian market economy.  For our people land and buildings are just that: land and buildings.  They don’t represent what is normally the hidden dimension of assets – they don’t represent capital.  There are strong cultural and policy considerations that have led to this reality.  Indigenous land for good reason is inalienable.  It must remain so.

However inalienability represents a huge difficulty for our economic development.  It is a difficulty we must overcome.  We must develop alternative ways in which we can access capital.  But it is not just a matter of raising and accessing capital.  It is also relevant to the decisions we make about where we invest our capital.  For example, if we were going to invest in a hotel.  If we invest in a hotel on our own land, we must keep in mind that the building and the business operating within it, are not going to represent “capital” in any market sense.  The building has no market value and neither has the business upon it – if the land upon which it is situated is inalienable.  We are probably better off investing in a hotel in Cairns or Sydney.

3.   Our culture as a barrier

In relation to Aboriginal economic development there is frequent reference to the need for "culturally appropriate" enterprises and ways of conducting enterprises.  It is never clear what is meant, however.  It is true that enterprise development presents new dilemmas and problems for Aboriginal society and culture.  The usual assumption today is that enterprise must be adapted to the requirements of Aboriginal society and culture.  There appear to be problems with this assumption. Firstly, how "culturally appropriate" can enterprise be made to be?  Secondly, are there requirements of enterprise development, which are culturally universal – in that Aboriginal enterprise cannot avoid these requirements if they are to be successful?

Now is not the time to resolve these questions.  It is sufficient to recognise that "culture" is frequently cited as a reason why enterprises need to be approached differently in Aboriginal communities – and why Aboriginal enterprises do not succeed.  The fact is that we now live in a market economy where the people with whom we coexist and deal with daily, make their livelihoods and accumulate wealth through enterprises.   The goods and services we utilise in our daily lives are provided by enterprises owned by other people.

This means that whilst, for cultural reasons, enterprise development may seem foreign to our people – we are clearly a part of it.  But we are part of it as passive customers: we contribute our resources to the livelihoods and the accumulation of wealth by other people, and we seem unable to do it ourselves.

4.   Dilemmas of private ownership

Private enterprise presents significant dilemmas to Aboriginal people. Private enterprise may not be problematic for Aboriginal entrepreneurs operating in the mainstream, but it becomes problematic in the community context, where communal ownership of assets, resources and opportunities and communal relationships and obligations are significant issues that have to be dealt with. Private enterprise not only presents dilemmas to entrepreneurs and their relationship with the community in which their enterprise operates, it presents dilemmas to the community as a whole. On the one hand private ownership may be the only feasible way of successfully structuring and operating a number of enterprises, and on the other hand they present dilemmas that are not easy to resolve.

These dilemmas include:

  • The concern that individual entrepreneurs with access to finance, with skills, connections and so on, can easily come to monopolise all of the available enterprise opportunities within a community – there being a limit to the enterprises which the community economy can sustain
  • The concern that key assets and resources (particularly land) are communally owned and should not be "privatised" or exploited by an individual or a subgroup of the community, for their exclusive profit
  • The concern that Aboriginal economic development should result in community benefit and uplift, not just of those who own private enterprises
  • The resulting concern that classes will be created within communities, where some people have opportunities and gain benefits from enterprises, whilst others have no opportunities

These are significant barriers to private enterprise development.  These barriers are not just manifested in the policy and political difficulties involved in developing private enterprise within communities – the barriers are psychological and cultural, in the sense that there is an undercurrent of suspicion and misgivings in relation to private enterprise within our Aboriginal communities, and frequently a belief that it is foreign to our culture and society.

One does not need to deny that these dilemmas are real in order to also make the observation that it results in our people being unable to operate enterprises – whilst other people are.  Indeed we seem to have no psychological and cultural problems utilising private enterprises that are owned by strangers – but our own people cannot own and provide these same services through their own enterprises.  It is a situation, which condemns us to allowing others to profit from opportunities within or involving our communities, but not our own people.  It is a situation, which we must confront.


What I have sought to outline today is the political case for enterprise development in indigenous Cape York .  But it is not just a political case, we must make the moral case – if not for capitalism, then for involvement in the wealth creation process.  The existence of capitalism is something we can do nothing about.  The morality of this fact is a useless thing to consider.  What we have to do is face up the reality that we live in a market society and economy, and we are located at the most miserable bottom end of it.  What is a moral question is whether we are participating and gaining a fair share from the market society and economy in which we live.  Therefore there is, to our way of thinking in Cape York , a moral case to be made for indigenous engagement in enterprise and wealth creation for our people.

Whatever dilemmas and problems enterprise development present to our people, we must face the fact that unless we succeed with enterprise development, our people will be trapped in impoverishment and dependency. And we will continue to fail to develop an economic base for our people.