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Research looks into Indigenous economic development


Steve Spinks
2 November 2012
Are the current management structures and practices in Indigenous organisations, government and non-government agencies and political structures that impact upon Indigenous Australians creating enormous inefficiencies and waste of taxpayer funds while disenfranchising Aboriginal people?

Trevor Maher, a Doctor of Business Administration candidate with Southern Cross University, is researching the issue and will present an outline of his research thesis at the DBA Symposium at SCU Riverside, in Tweed Heads, at the weekend.

Mr Maher believes the progress of Aboriginal people is being held back by inappropriate management and governance structures and competing power plays in organisations by lateral violence and a theory called the homo-social reproduction.

“Many organisations, not just Aboriginal organisations, from grass roots to government agencies to political parties tend to keep employing the same 'type' of person because of a number of a reasons,” he said.

According to the theoretical basis of his research thesis, these people usually have the same or lesser levels of skills and abilities as their employer and therefore can’t lift the organisation to the next level in terms of economic development. Employers are more interested in keeping their organisation at the same level it’s always been so they restrict those who want to change and improve the system.

“In terms of government Aboriginal policy development and implementation, policy makers tend to consult the same Aboriginal people for advice, political or otherwise, and they tend to be the only people they consult,” he said.

Mr Maher will also research the effect of lateral violence theory used by management and policy makers.

“Lateral violence theory in these terms relate to threats of violence and intimidation to withdraw organisation and/or project funding to organisations if they do not adhere to political and/or government agency directions and/or policy objectives whether advantageous or disadvantageous to the organisation and/or the community.

“The problem these practices create is enormous inefficiencies and waste. It affects leadership in organisations, it affects the management and governing structures of an organisation, it affects the participation within an organisation and the productivity of an organisation.

“Overall, the impact is that these organisations do not achieve the economic development potential that they should be achieving. This level of waste has run into the tens of millions or even hundreds of millions over the past 30 years as indicated in several recently produced state and federal government reports.”

Mr Maher will do a quantitative analysis of government funding programs in four areas including land, labour, capital and investment in education (business) and entrepreneurship.
He believes investment in business and entrepreneurship for Aboriginal people is lagging behind.

“The government has funded law programs, teaching programs and nursing programs but the biggest area the government has not funded is education in business and entrepreneurship,” he said.

“Now that Aborigines have land rights, Native Title rights, they are involved in the management of vast tracks of land so they need to have the business or entrepreneurship skills to exploit business opportunities.

“Hopefully my work can identify a problem and perhaps influence policy development into the future. Also, hopefully even at the grass roots levels, Aboriginal people will realise that if they want to change things in the next 25 to 30 years they need to look at these practices and government policy development and implementation needs to change for 'real' progress in Aboriginal economic development to occur.”

Mr Maher was the first Indigenous graduate of the University of Wollongong in 1981 before embarking on a 30-year academic and business career, including working for Southern Cross University’s forerunner the University of New England Northern Rivers. He has recently completed a Masters of Business Administration through SCU.

Southern Cross Business School operates one of the largest and most successful doctoral research programs in business in Australia and Asia. More than 50 students will participate in the DBA Symposium. The symposium will be the culmination of Business Research Week, an annual event in the school.

Photo: Mr Trevor Maher.