Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the first peoples of Australia, and the minerals industry recognises the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples in relation to the lands and waters to which there is a special connection.
The Australian minerals industry’s approach to working with Indigenous communities is founded on mutual respect and a commitment to long-term and mutually beneficial partnerships.
As a result of this commitment, the mining industry now employs 2.5 more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than in 2006. This compares to non-mining related Indigenous employment, which has grown by 1.5 times during the same period.
At the same time, the minerals industry has also invested significantly in supporting the establishment, growth and development of Indigenous businesses.
The establishment of approximately 2,000 Indigenous land use agreements between Indigenous peoples and the mining industry over two decades is also described as providing ‘unprecedented economic potential for Indigenous regional and remote communities’.
Maximising benefits from Indigenous agreements
Maximising the intra- and inter-generational benefits from Indigenous agreements, building the pipeline of Indigenous businesses and supporting employment opportunities are priorities for Australia’s minerals industry.
However, there are a number of barriers that prevent greater economic benefits from participation in the minerals and other industries.
Targeted support, fit-for-purpose reform and further alignment of government services and programs could assist to address these impediments.
Under the Native Title Act 1993 (Commonwealth), native title groups nominate a prescribed body corporate to manage or hold their native title. A PBC becomes a registered native body corporate (RNTBC) following a native title determination.
The MCA strongly supports the Australian Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy which acknowledges the important role of PBCs and other Native Title Corporations, includes funding over an initial four years for PBC Capacity Building. The minerals industry sees significant value in extending the Strategy beyond 2018-19.
The MCA welcomed the Australian Government’s funding of the National Native Title Council (NNTC), in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, the University of Melbourne Business School and RMIT University, to develop and pilot business and corporate training for PBCs.
MCA understands the NNTC training model provides a culturally-appropriate, competency-based approach that will also support participants to develop a peer network with others sharing similar business and corporate responsibilities. Outcomes from NNTC’s pilot program could provide lessons for other PBC capacity-building initiatives.
A further action to support PBC capacity-building could involve cataloguing the range of corporate and business training programs available to Indigenous peoples. This could profile Indigenous people who have participated in training, lessons learnt and how these have or could be applied to PBC activities, including development of economic opportunities.
Encouraging economic development activities by Native Title Holders
In March 2018, the National Native Title Council, with support from the MCA, hosted a seminar to understand factors that may impede Native Title Holders from using native title monies to support long-term economic development. Representatives from PBCs, Native Title Representative Bodies and Service Providers, law firms, academics and mining companies participated in the seminar.
The MCA’s involvement in the seminar reflects its long-standing support for measures to facilitate beneficial outcomes for communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This involvement also acknowledges the opportunity presented by native title monies associated with mining Indigenous agreements to support poverty alleviation and socio-economic development.
Participants identified a number of issues affecting the ability of Native Title Holders to maximise intra and intergenerational benefits from monies. Key issues included:
- Current tax treatment of native title monies discouraging longer-term investments and uncertainty in taxation rules regarding accumulation periods for charitable trusts.
- Introduction to more complex trust structures to overcome constraints of trust documents limited in nature and not permitting investment in economic development activities
- Existing charitable trust structures and PBI designation could perpetuate a ‘welfarist’ perception despite a strong view of the need to move away from a charity approach.
Seminar participants agreed on solutions that could assist native title monies to be deployed to encourage economic development activities. Solutions included development of pro forma documentation to support native title to more easily establish appropriate functional trust structures and acquire PBI status.
Another solution was the establishment of a new organisation designation for management of native title monies. Such an organisation would be voluntary, available to all Indigenous holding entities, support transparency and accountability, provide taxation incentives and allow monies to support community and individual economic activity and charitable purposes. It was acknowledged by seminar participants that such an organisation would support transition away from a ‘welfarist’ approach.