Commercial and community development

Commercial development opportunities

In many parts of the country PBCs will have the opportunity to become involved in commercial activities and develop sources of income in addition to the government funding that may be available. 

To successfully engage in these commercial activities a PBC will need to develop its capacity to operate in the commercial sector. There are local, regional and national resources available to assist a PBC to develop this capacity, and to support its engagement with the commercial opportunities available in its region.

Over 70 per cent of PBCs are reliant on government funding. Once a native title determination or settlement has been finalised native title holders have more options to start planning how they can build a viable and sustainable organisation.

PBCs will need to make decisions about whether certain types of activities and development can proceed on their country, and will be able to negotiate what the terms, conditions and financial benefits will be.

Opportunities for a PBC to develop alternative sources of income may arise from future act activities within the determination area. It may be possible for a PBC to negotiate benefits for native title holders that include training, employment, contracting, and other opportunities. If a PBC has the capacity, it may be able to enter into joint ventures and partnerships with other parties, or in some circumstances, undertake the proposed activities or development itself.

Opportunities may also exist for a PBC to generate alternative sources of income by developing its own projects. If a PBC can develop the capacity to undertake successful commercial projects it may be possible for a PBC to gradually build an economic base that will support its broader cultural, social and commercial objectives.

How to get started?

It is important that an appropriate rule book is developed and a suitable corporate structure is established. It is equally important that good corporate governance and decision making processes are developed and that people with appropriate skills and experience are appointed as directors. Ensuring that all these elements are in place will provide the PBC with a solid foundation. This will enable it to make appropriate decisions and develop appropriate strategic, operational and business plans and suitable policies to guide and support its objectives and activities.

The Australian Government runs a whole-of-government business website as an entry point for information, services and support with tailored information for your business location. It includes practical help on how to start a business covering all aspects from business planning, marketing, risk management to products including labelling and pricing. It also provides templates such as a starting your business checklist and a business plan template and guide. It also tailors funding and grant and relevant training opportunities according to your postcode.

Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) is another government organisation that was created to assist and enhance the economic development opportunities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia. They serve, partner and invest with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and assist with developing a business ideas all the way towards a viable business.

Working together

In some parts of the country there may also be an opportunity for a PBC to work with, learn from and support other PBCs as part of a regional group. This also includes working with the Native Title Service Provider (NTSP).Such collaborations can provide PBCs with an opportunity to become involved in larger regional projects that they would not have the capacity or resources to undertake by themselves. 

Joint ventures

There may even be opportunities where native title holders want their PBC to become involved in commercial activities in a sector of the economy that requires specialist expertise or significant capital assets beyond the PBC’s current capacity or resources. In these circumstances it may be possible to build relationships with an established commercial organisation already operating in the sector, as it may be interested in partnering with a PBC in a number of ways including joint venture opportunities.

This video was produced by Justice Connect which provides relevant legal information for the Not-for-Profit sector.

Partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses have grown in number in recent years because of the opportunities provided by the Australian-wide Indigenous Procurement Policy. Supply Nation, an Australian-wide database of verified Indigenous businesses, is including joint ventures into their supplier list once they have been certified.

IBA provides a guide to Indigenous joint ventures and Intellectual Property (IP) Australia provides a range of advice regarding intellectual property, for example, methods for estimating the market value of Indigenous knowledge.

Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP) and Supply Nation

The Australian Government implemented the IPP, a mandatory procurement instrument where Commonwealth Government departments need to spend a percentage of their multi-billion procurement with Indigenous businesses in each financial year. It requires Commonwealth officers to seek an Indigenous businesses first for remote contracts and all other contracts valued between $80,000 - $200,000 that are delivered across all of Australia. Under the IPP Indigenous businesses are to be used if they can meet the contract’s requirements and are deemed to be value for money. This policy was set in place to drive demand for Indigenous goods and services, stimulate Indigenous economic development and grow the Indigenous business sector through direct contracts and indirectly through major suppliers via subcontracts and employment opportunities.

A PBC can register with Supply Nation for broader visibility to government and other businesses who want to buy goods or services from indigenous business.

What support and resources are available?

Assistance and support for the establishment and initial capacity development of a PBC is often available from the regional Native Title Representative Body (NTRB). It is important for a PBC to discuss its capacity development needs with its NTRB so that the necessary support and resources can be incorporated into the NTRB’s annual budget and operational plan.

The Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations can provide guidance and assistance with an information kit and a guide to developing a PBC’s rule book. ORIC also conducts corporate governance training workshops and provides other support and assistance for PBCs.

Direct funding for PBC capacity building is available from the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, as well as funding through the Indigenous Entrepreneurs Fund. Applications for these funding opportunities can be made throughout the year. For more practical information and resources on funding visit the funding application page and the find funding database.

IBA provides a broad range of support for Indigenous businesses through its business development and assistance program. The program provides business skills workshops, business development support, and business finance for Indigenous businesses.

Written by Austin Sweeney, consultant native title lawyer (updated 10.10.2020).

PBC examples

There is a number of examples of successful businesses and joint ventures developed by PBCs. Check out how the Mandingalbay Yidinji Aboriginal Corporation established a range of strategic partnerships by which they created economic and social development mainly in the form of ranger work but also tourism and other enterprise opportunities.

The Far West Coast Aboriginal Corporation experience

The Far West Coast Aboriginal Corporation (FWCAC) manages the Far West Coast land as belonging to the Far West Coast Peoples. FWCAC represents 6 distinct cultural groups of Aboriginal people: Mirning Peoples, The descendants of Edward Roberts, Wirangu Peoples, Yalata Peoples, Kokatha Peoples and Maralinga Tjaratja (Oak Valley) Peoples. April Lawrie and Peter Miller of FWCAC in Ceduna speak about the corporation’s investments strategies.

The Olkola Aboriginal Corporation experience

The Olkola Aboriginal Corporation (OAC) holds and manages the Olkola Traditional Lands and represents the Olkola People of Cape York. One of OAC's development programs invovles on Country carbon farming. Debby Symonds from Olkola Aboriginal Corporation speaks about this small PBC and how they establishes a carbon farming business through strategic fire plans and their implementation.

Further resources

Business advice and support: