Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

A Third Space Social Enterprise: Closing the Gap through Cross-Cultural Learning

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

A Third Space Social Enterprise: Closing the Gap through Cross-Cultural Learning

Article excerpt

Abstract: Australian government policy envisages that pervasive socio-economic disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians be overcome by economic mainstreaming. Critics, however, consider the political attempt at 'Closing the Gap' between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to be ineffective in the absence of material improvements in Indigenous welfare statistics. At issue also are the colonial mindsets and structures that have given rise to Indigenous disadvantage in the first place and the fact that economic mainstreaming largely occurs on the terms of the colonisers to enable the participation of Aboriginal people in the formal economy, which is itself a construct of the privileged. It is in this context that this paper employs a Bhabhaian perspective, exploring the work of an Indigenous social enterprise operating in north-east Arnhem Land, an organisation that is understood here as a 'third space' for cross-cultural learning. The third space enterprise is presented as an alternative pathway for Indigenous economic participation, one that is without the assimilation pressures commonly associated with the Closing the Gap policy approach.

Introduction

Welfare statistics continue to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as Australia's most disadvantaged cultural group (ABS 2012) despite numerous political programs aimed at improving conditions for Indigenous Australians. After attempts at self-determination following the 1967 referendum and self-governance in the 1990s (Fletcher 1994; Markus 1994), the Howard coalition government (1996-2007) promoted 'practical reconciliation' with a focus on Indigenous socio-economic disadvantage and statistical equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians (Altman 2004). Practical reconciliation, which marked a shift away from an Indigenous rights-based approach 'to a new liberal paradigm' in Indigenous policy (Strakosch 2015:2), continues to underpin the current coalition government's (2013-) Closing the Gap policy framework. Closing the Gap seeks to foster improvements in areas such as remote housing, health, early childhood development, jobs and remote service delivery and to make available Indigenous-specific funding in support of these reforms (COAG 2008).

One key objective of the Closing the Gap strategy of particular interest to this paper is the intended halving of the Indigenous employment gap by 2018 by way of encouraging Indigenous participation in the formal economy (COAG 2008). The government's focus on Indigenous employment is certainly warranted, especially in rural and remote areas where Indigenous participation remains low (Altman 2016; Australian Government 2014; Brereton and Parmenter 2008), and it is this lack of formal economic participation by Indigenous people that is seen to perpetuate their low socio-economic status and poor health statistics (Osborne et al. 2013). To date, however, as the government's most recent Closing the Gap report (Australian Government 2016) attests, no progress has been made in halving the gap in Indigenous employment. This explains why economic mainstreaming attempts are deemed inadequate to deliver improved Indigenous economic participation (e.g. Altman 2014, 2015a, 2016; Jordan 2012). The Closing the Gap approach, with its focus on Indigenous socio-economic needs--or 'deficits' (Sullivan 2013:354)--and statistical performance management, is criticised also for 'depoliticis[ing] Indigenous issues' (Pholi et al. 2009:8) and ignoring the 'historical and politico-economic causes of marginalisation' and Indigenous disadvantage (Altman 2009:6). According to critics, statistical equality is seemingly achieved at the expense of cultural difference (Altman and Hinkson 2010:203; Sullivan 2013:354).

The government's Indigenous Advancement Strategy (Australian Government 2014), introduced as a vehicle for delivering on key aspects of the Closing the Gap framework, intends to 'connect working age Indigenous Australians with real and sustainable jobs, foster Indigenous business and assist Indigenous people to generate economic and social benefits from economic assets'. …

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