The Australian Greens note the critically important need to address the longstanding issue of fake Indigenous art and merchandise. The ongoing misappropriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, through the production and trade in inauthentic art, undermines the value and worth of traditional communities and artists. The harm of this trade cannot be underestimated. It also deceives consumers, many of whom are tourists believing they are purchasing authentic Indigenous art.
The Australian Greens welcome the Government’s acceptance that something must be done to address this issue, particularly in relation to souvenirs. But we urge the Government to move much more quickly and not slow the reform process down by further unnecessary reviews.
Successive inquiries, research reports and evidence-gathering, underpinned by an abundance of anecdotal evidence from First Nations peoples, have given weight to the pressing need for reform. After all, as the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs found in its 2018 inquiry into the issue, the “art of our First Nations is not simply a collection of design elements in some artistic media presentation, they are in fact a representation of cultural songlines”.
The finding that at least 80 per cent of the souvenir market for Indigenous merchandise consists of fake goods is shameful, but sadly not surprising. In close consultation with First Nations artists and the sector more broadly, the Australian Greens have consistently heard that this issue is in need of urgent reform, not further consultation. To this end, the Australian Greens welcome the Committee’s in-principle support for addressing the issue of inauthentic Indigenous-style products in the souvenir market as proposed in the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Prevention of Exploitation of Indigenous Cultural Expressions) Bill 2019.
During the course of this Inquiry, new claims of unscrupulous private art dealers exploiting frail and elderly Aboriginal artists in central Australia came to light. These claims included that artists were forced to paint to pay off debts and essentially held captive and forced to paint—exploitative practices known as ‘carpetbagging’. This legislation would go some way towards dealing with this issue as licensing would in turn require a code of practice. But, this issue must also be urgently addressed and the investigation announced by the South Australian and Federal Government following these claims is welcome but must be seen through.
It is however disappointing that the Committee recommends further consultation, when the Committee itself acknowledges the overwhelming evidence that the issue is widespread and immensely damaging to artists, communities, consumers and businesses alike. Where there might be limitations to the bill as proposed, the Australian Greens strongly believe that these could be addressed through amendments as appropriate, and that the bill in its current form represents a ready mechanism for an immediate and comprehensive response.
On that basis, alongside the overwhelming consensus of the sector calling for urgent reform on this issue, the Australian Greens recommend that the bill should pass the Senate.