In the lead up to the 2016 federal election, Good Shepherd Microfinance asked team members what financial inclusion issues they’d like to see addressed during the election campaign and by the incoming government. In the third instalment in the series, Benson Saulo looks at increasing financial inclusion for Indigenous Australians.
In 1966, Aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal penned The Dawn is at Hand; a simple vision of the world she hoped for her people. She wrote:
“You will be welcomed in mate-ship wise In industry and in enterprise No profession will bar the door Fringe-dwellers no more.”
In the 50 years since these words were published, Australia has seen remarkable changes in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. From 1967 when over 90 per cent of Australians voted in favour of recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as citizens in their own country, to terra nullius being dismissed in the momentous Mabo High Court decision that introduced Native Title to the vocabulary of the nation. And in more recent times, with the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, and the establishment of the national Close the Gap agenda. In the past half century, Australia has come a long way, but to truly realise the vision of Oodgeroo Noonuccal, we still have a way to go on this nation-building journey.
In 2016, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remain financial fringe-dwellers. Our first nations people are over-represented among the three million Australians who are financially excluded, and those with the lowest financial capability. They are also the only community group associated with financial exclusion irrespective of where they live, and more than 30 per cent live in urban areas across Australia.
To simplify the challenges of financial exclusion of our first nations people as a cultural issue or perpetuate notions of ingrained disadvantage based on race is to disregard the past 250 years of systemic cultural, social and spiritual degradation that has been the result of colonisation. Instead, there needs to be a broader recognition that strengths within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community that can better inform the way business is done in Australia. Drawing on key elements of relationships, respect, community and resilience – ultimately creating more inclusive and responsive communities across government and institutions.
While the solution to complex issues is never simple, the vision of Oodgeroo Noonuccal when viewed through a financial inclusion and resilience lens, begins to look like a road map to better engage and support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Perhaps we can reimagine Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s words as guiding principles for governments and institutions.
You will be welcomed, embraced and valued in our national identity
You will have the capability, understanding and access to participate fully across society
You will actively be engaged to participate and meaningfully contribute in governments and institutions
You will no longer be silent by-standers of decisions impacting your communities, but active participants informing the future of the nation
Realising financial inclusion and resilience across the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community through appropriate, accessible and affordable products, and greater capabilities and understanding is critical to truly becoming a reconciled nation, and finally acknowledge our first nation peoples as fringe-dwellers no more.
With 50 per cent of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population under the age of 25, we have a unique opportunity to target financial capability and capacity building programs to people who that yet to start, or are in the early stages of their financial journey. Now is the time for our major political parties to increase efforts and funding to improve the financial inclusion and resilience in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early childhood and youth services to create lasting change in communities across Australia.
By Benson Saulo
Financial Inclusion Action Plan Advisor
Benson Saulo is descendant of the Wemba Wemba and Gundjitmara Australian Aboriginal nations of western Victoria and the New Ireland Provence of Papua New Guinea. Growing up in the rural town of Tamworth in New South Wales, Benson began working in finance at the age of 15. In 2011, Benson he was appointed Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations. Benson has played a key role in the creation of the Financial Inclusion Action Plan program.