It was 1979, and I was working at the Australian Taxation Office in Martin Place in Sydney at the time the first Penthouse Australia magazine was published. And yes, a group of us at the ATO bought that first issue.
It was 12 years since the 1967 Referendum where more than 90 per cent of Australians voted to change the Australian Constitution for Indigenous Australians to be full citizens in Australia. The foundations for Indigenous people to take control of their own lives and future were put in place.
The various federal, state, territory and local government laws and policies that discriminated against Indigenous people had been removed. Senator Neville Bonner had become the first Indigenous person to sit in the Federal Parliament. The first land rights legislation had been passed. Education programs for lifting the numbers of Indigenous kids attending and completing school and going onto university had been introduced. Indigenous employment programs were introduced as well.
They were heady days, and we, Indigenous people and the wider Australian community, were looking forward to a bright and great future. Since 1979, in the past 40 years, have there been improvements and opportunities for that bright and great future?
No doubt Australia today is a better place for Indigenous people than the first 13 years of my life, living under the NSW Aborigines Protection Act. Government reserves and religious missions no longer exist. Indigenous people are no longer restricted in their movement and where they can live. Indigenous people freely live and move around Australia like other Australians.
Since Senator Bonner entered Federal Parliament there have been overall 45 people of Indigenous descent who have been elected to parliaments at federal, state and territory level. Currently, the Western Australian Treasurer and the Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians are Indigenous. There has been a Chief Minister in the Northern Territory and Deputy Leaders of the Opposition in the Northern Territory and New South Wales. There have been ministers and senior advisers, mayors, deputy mayors and councillors. The numbers are growing at each election.
Land rights legislation has been enacted in states across Australia following the first Lands Rights Act covering the Northern Territory in 1976. The Mabo High Court decision in 1992 recognised Indigenous prior occupation of Australia and native title. Indigenous Australians now have ownership or other rights over more than 20 per cent of Australia’s landmass. If you look at northern Australia, the figure is even larger. Native title has led to Indigenous Land Use Agreements where traditional owners have a seat at the table negotiating with mining companies, infrastructure developers and others over what happens on their land. This is a base for economic development on a large scale – mining, agriculture and tourism for a start – as well a physical and legal edifice for cultural growth.
The Federal Government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP) started in July 2015, under which 3 per cent of government contracts are to go to Indigenous businesses, on merit, has grown from $6.7 million to over $2 billion within four years, and continues to grow. Over 1,500 Indigenous businesses have been created. This has led to state, territory and local governments, and the private sector bringing in similar policies and the Business Council of Australia has signed on to do more. Some parts of the private sector, especially the mining industry, have been doing this for a while. Since 2011, Fortescue Metals Group alone has awarded over $2 billion in contracts to Indigenous businesses, many of which it helped create.
So, now after 40 years, Penthouse is still going strong. And the future for Indigenous Australians is bright.
Nyunggai Warren Mundine is a writer and businessman and the author of Warren Mundine – In Black and White. Follow him on Twitter @nyunggai.