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Indigenous Economic Development Strategy (2011-18): An Evaluation
Despite several positive developments in recent years, the indigenous population of Australia continues to suffer from various social and economic maladies. Low levels of literacy among indigenous populations have lead to lower levels of unemployment and alienation from the mainstream resulting in severe social and psychological stress. The discrimination faced at schools continues at the labor markets too. Educated aboriginals complain that even after gaining education, they cannot find useful employment opportunities.
The Indigenous Economic Development Plan
The Australian Government has adopted a long term strategy in order to uplift the economic status of the Australian aboriginals and bring them to the same level of development as the rest of the Australian society. To this end, the Indigenous Economic Development Strategy 2011-2018 is a remarkable plan adopted by the federal government which hopes to removes the social and economic inequalities through concerted governmental effort. The plan will guide the government between 2011 and 2018 on various reform programs and initiatives taken for aboriginals. The plan will be evaluated at the end of the first three years and necessary changes and suggestions will be accommodated. 2014 marks the third year of completion of the economic strategy. In this article, we will try to provide an honest assessment of the plan and suggest changes which can be fruitfully incorporated within the program for better results.
The Economic development has earmarked five areas of importance which requires immediate governmental action. The areas are:
- Investment in education
- Creation of a favorable economic environment
- Skill building activities and creation of employment opportunities
- Growth and development of indigenous entrepreneurial activities
- Encourage financial security and independence of the indigenous community.
Limitations of the Economic Development Plan
The Center for Aboriginal Economic Research Policy of ANU has published a scathing review of the economic development strategy. According to a report published by J Hunt (see J. Hunt, Learning from Success: A Response to the Draft Indigenous Economic Development Strategy/CAEPR/Issue No 4/2011), the strategy is limited and short-sighted in several areas:
- The overall approach is heavily borrowed from what can be called the ‘modernization theory’ of human development. According to this theory, development occurs with people moving to the modern private sector through education and skill building. This approach is one of the many possible approaches. When it comes to working with indigenous Australians, scholars have shown that other approaches such as livelihood approaches and asset-based community development approaches are equally important.
- The human development approach of the economic plan is severely limited. Australia supports the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People. Under this, rights of the indigenous people should underpin the policies of the government. However, the strategy gives little importance to such rights-based approach.
- Private sector is given more importance whereas studies have confirmed that public and non-profit sectors also make measured contribution to the economy. Further, many of the aboriginals in the remote parts of Australia engage in subsistence based customary economy. However, no importance has been given to this sector of the economy.
- The strategy relies on the Human Capital Theory approach. It is individualistic in its nature. In this approach, development takes place when individual capacities are developed. However, scholars argue that much benefit can be accrued when communities are developed collectively rather than individually.
- Finally, the plan is not based on any scientific study of past programs and policies. As such there is a gap in the review of what has worked in the past and the future course of action.
The Indigenous Economic Development Strategy, it is argued will do better if these criticisms are considered while deciding on the future course of action.
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