One of the most significant developments in Australian Indigenous polity over the last decade has been Indigenous engagement in the economy. In NSW, economic engagement is increasingly a leading imperative under land rights laws (Norman, 2015) and public policy; the Prime Minister (February 2016) recently asserted, ‘Indigenous economic development is at the heart of the national agenda’ and when ‘underpinned by cultural participation, leads to vastly improved social outcomes’.
Emphasis on Aboriginal economic development is evident in the number of individual Indigenous entrepreneurs and communal organisations engaging in the market and as central players in local economies. In NSW, where the most sustained and violent colonial dispossession occurred and where the Aboriginal Land Rights Laws (ALRA) sought to reinstate social, cultural and political power through a land base, those laws are now heavily geared towards multi-million-dollar land deals & development, engaged with mining, delivering government services and running tourism operations. However, the ‘benefits’ of land-based entrepreneurialism are without critical appraisal or review, all the while, Indigenous disadvantage continues at totally unacceptable levels. This paper reports on empirical research to consider the theoretical implications, place-based history and enabling policy environment of Aboriginal approaches to development shaped by NSW ALRA and the NTA.