Commercial and Community Development

This page was authored by:

Austin Sweeney Consultant native title lawyer Austin Sweeney is a lawyer, facilitator and mediator who has practised in the area of land rights and native title for over 25 years.

Commercial Development in native title

Once a native title determination or settlement has been finalised it is in the interests of native title holders to start planning within their PBC how they can build a viable and sustainable organisation that will not be wholly dependent on government funding that may be limited and uncertain.

Commercial development opportunities

Opportunities for a PBC to develop alternative sources of income may arise from future act activities within the determination area.  Native title holders and their PBC will be in a position to make decisions about whether certain types of activities and development can proceed by agreement, and will be able to negotiate what the terms, conditions and financial benefits will be.

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 develop 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?

A PBC needs to be proactive if it wants to undertake commercial projects and activities. Initially it will face the challenge of how to build the strategic and operational capacity and resources that will be necessary to support native title holders if they want to undertake significant commercial, cultural and social projects on their country.

At the outset 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.

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 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.

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 joint venture opportunities.  Partnerships of this nature have grown in number in recent years because of the opportunities provided by Commonwealth and State Government Indigenous Procurement Policies.

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. It is important for a PBC to discuss its capacity development needs with its native title representative body so that the necessary support and resources can be incorporated into the representative body’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 may be available from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, and applications can be made for this funding throughout the year.

Indigenous Business Australia 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.

In addition, the Commonwealth Government has recently launched its Indigenous Business Sector Strategy. This provides a comprehensive package of support for indigenous businesses including expanded microfinance programs, improved access to business advice and support, an Indigenous Entrepreneurs Fund and an Indigenous Entrepreneurs Capital Scheme.  

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.

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.

In short

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 develop this capacity, and to support its engagement with the commercial opportunities available in its region.