A central issue facing policy makers is how to meet principles of equity and social justice in access to economic benefits for Australia’s diverse regional, ethnic and Indigenous populations, while at the same time ensuring broad national goals of economic development are met. This issue is particularly complex in the case of Aboriginal people. A wide range of formal social statistical indicators demonstrate that while there are significant regional variations, Aboriginal populations across Australia are characterised by such factors as poor health and life expectancy, inferior living standards and low educational attainment, as well as having poor participation rates in the mainstream economy and significantly lower income levels. At the same time, whether they are in remote, rural or urban areas, Aboriginal people themselves assert the reality and legitimacy of their distinctive cultural values and systems, and this is recognised in many government policies and programs. The thrust of the arguments in this paper is that these distinctive values should not be seen as relating only to aspects of Aboriginal societies such as language, religion, or aesthetic and artistic traditions, but to 'economic' values and practices as well. The resilience of such beliefs and practices may well not be compatible with integration into the mainstream economy, through for example labour market participation or enterprise development.
This then brings into sharp relief a fundamental dilemma for policy makers and Aboriginal people alike: how to ensure that the goal of 'economic development' is not an unwitting tool for the assimilation of Aboriginal people into the mainstream society. This discussion paper proposes principles by which certain 'economic' aspects of Aboriginal culture and the impact of cash on Aboriginal social relations can be understood, and examines the implications of these principles for policy and program areas, particularly those under the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP).
ISBN: 0 7315 1775 X