IBA is arguably one of the longest standing and most successful Indigenous specific commercial organisations in Australia’s history.
Originally known as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commercial Development Corporation (CDC), it was established in March 1990 following the proclamation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) Act 1989.
The original idea to create ATSIC and the CDC was first put to the Australian Parliament in December 1987. Legislation to give effect to that statement was introduced into Parliament in 1988. At that stage, it was envisaged that the corporation would be called the Aboriginal Economic Development Corporation. The second reading speech (Hand 1988) stated:
‘The legislation provides for the establishment of a statutory corporation, under the control of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with a broad charter to engage in commercial and financial activities.
The Corporation’s primary function is to engage in commercial activities in accordance with sound business principles. In performing its functions, the Corporation is required to have regard to various matters which might be summarised as advancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander economic interests. The Government expects that the Corporation will enhance the opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to begin to break free from the web of dependency and achieve a significant degree of economic independence’.
Through various amendments, the corporation was formally created as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commercial Development Corporation.
The CDC was established to assist and enhance Indigenous self management and economic self sufficiency through a strong Indigenous presence in mainstream economic activities.
The corporation was created by Part 4 of the ATSIC Act, which had one of the most protracted passages through parliament of any legislation. Interestingly, there was almost a total lack of debate on that part of the Bill which proposed the creation of the CDC. This perhaps reflects the care taken by the legislators to define functions acceptably and to set out the necessary checks and balances.
Earlier debates on the perceived defects of legislation creating previous organisations may have been relevant.
CDC’s initial functions were to engage in commercial activities, to promote and encourage Indigenous self management and self sufficiency, and to perform such other functions as were conferred by the ATSIC Act.
It commenced operations with a capital base of around $10 million (being property of the former ADC) and was subsequently funded across its first four years at $10 million per year.
Following a number of reviews and inquiries related to Indigenous economic development programs, the CDC’s enabling legislation was subsequently amended in 2001. The legislative changes were limited to:
- changing the name of the CDC to Indigenous Business Australia
- expressly allowing ATSIC to outsource its commercial functions (to any party of its choosing)
- providing the option to the minister of appointing a full time chairperson of Indigenous Business Australia.
The second reading speech presented the changes as follows:
‘The bill reflects the government’s commitment to increasing opportunities for Indigenous Australians to participate in commercial development. Participation in business enables more Indigenous Australians to escape the cycle of welfare dependency and provides opportunities for employment and the creation of wealth and capital to generate further economic development opportunities.
The bill is also designed to improve current services and contains three key aspects.
The first aspect is changing the name of the CDC to IBA. The establishment of a new organisation, with a new name, will provide an opportunity to refocus business client expectations on commercial objectives clearly differentiated from the broad social and economic objectives of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, ATSIC.
The second aspect is expressly allowing ATSIC to outsource its commercial functions. ATSIC will be enabled to use IBA or other organisations to deliver its commercial services, such as the provision of loans, to Indigenous businesses. These changes are designed to encourage a shift in culture surrounding Indigenous business support and, in particular, to help bring the public and private sector closer to an effective partnership.
The final aspect provides the option of appointing a full time chairperson to IBA. Currently the chairperson of the CDC is appointed on a part time basis. The option to appoint a full time chairperson is in recognition of the significant role that IBA will play in stimulating the economic advancement of Indigenous Australians and will help to ensure that IBA can maintain and expand the successful joint venture arrangements the CDC has established with a wide range of Australian companies.
The bill is a significant step towards improving Indigenous participation in viable businesses, and is part of the government’s ongoing commitment to assist Indigenous Australians achieve economic independence.’
Significant amendments arose some years later, flowing from the government’s decision to abolish ATSIC. The consequential passage of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Amendment Act 2005 in March 2005 resulted in the transfer of two key economic programs to IBA.
As set out in the explanatory memorandum, the Act required amendment as a consequence of the new functions of IBA to make housing and business loans and grants, and to give guarantees in relation to loans or grants that would further the social, economic or cultural development of Aboriginal persons or Torres Strait Islanders.
Provision was also made for the Minister to authorise IBA to act as agent or delegate of the Commonwealth. The powers of IBA were extended to allow it to enter into contracts for the provision of business or housing loans and to make grants for purposes associated with business loans or housing loans.
IBA was also given the power to determine the terms and conditions of grants and loans and to guarantee payment of money in relation to a housing or business loan where it was satisfied that the loan would further the social, economic or cultural development of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.
A new provision was included, empowering the Minister to give general directions to IBA in relation to its activities.
As part of the amendments, a new housing fund was established. The fund was made up of:
- money credited to the fund established under section 67 of the ATSIC Act before the date of ATSIC’s abolition
- amounts appropriated to IBA for the purposes of the new housing fund
- repayments relating to housing loans made by or treated as having been made by IBA out of the fund or loans made by the Aboriginal Development Commission or the Aboriginal Loans Commission
- interest received by IBA on investments of money from the fund
- money IBA determined in writing to make available for the purposes of the fund.
Separate provisions provided for the transfer to the corporation of related assets, including the business loans portfolio.
The ATSI Act was further amended on 7 December 2011. The official title of General Manager was changed to Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Strict secrecy obligations on IBA’s directors, employees and consultants were modified to give the CEO limited powers to disclose information in the public interest (see section 191 of the ATSI Act).