Powering the Indigenous economy

Celebrating Indigenous Business Month

Artwork from Indigenous Business Month

October marks Indigenous Business Month, a time to celebrate the many forms of power that Indigenous economies generate as part of everyday business.

This year’s theme is Powering the Indigenous Economy, which encourages the Indigenous business sector and its allies to connect and take charge in conversations and activities that showcase the economic contributions of Indigenous peoples, businesses, and organisations.

Indigenous Business month is now in its seventh year, and UQ Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement) Professor Bronwyn Fredericks said it was time that all Australians saw the power of the Indigenous economy in all walks of life.

"Indigenous voices and experiences are vital to creating national and global change," Professor Fredericks said.

"Through Indigenous scholarships in the School of Economics and the Master of Business Administration program, UQ is providing positive role models for young Indigenous Australians, and producing graduates who add valuable knowledge to various business sectors." 

Indigenous UQ graduates, such as Cameron Costello and Matthew Jones, are leaders in the Australian business world.

Costello is the former CEO of Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation, which works closely with the Quandamooka people, government and industry on strategic plans, sustainability and economic development. Jones recently established Malu Pty Ltd, a management consulting firm based in the greater Brisbane area.

Continue reading to learn more about their careers and achievements.

Cameron Costello

Cameron Costello, a Quandamooka man from Moreton Bay in South East Queensland, understands the business savvy and tenacity required to unlock the benefits of native title.

After completing a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) at UQ in 2005, and spending nearly 15 years working across industry and government, Costello recognised the unique connection between native title protection and tangible commercial practices.

“While I knew it was important when I was studying, I never expected that so many business practices would be relevant to native title because our community was focused on the challenge of just gaining recognition in the first instance,” he said.

“Unlocking the benefits of native title is where business practices are essential. You are creating – often from scratch – new enterprises to generate revenue and employment for your people.”

Combining his extensive understanding of the law and his passion for the preservation of Country, Costello is now a member of several boards, including the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, Queensland Koala Advisory Council, Arts Queensland First Nation Arts and Cultural Advisory Panel, and the board of Healthy Land and Water – the peak South East Queensland body for natural resource management.

“Whereas Quandamooka people have historically been excluded from the economy by past policies, native title has unlocked the door to a range of meaningful business opportunities,” he said.

“We are now actively participating in the broader economy across a number of sectors, from land management to tourism to the arts.

“This requires skilled Indigenous businesspeople who can create and deliver sustainable businesses based on a balance of eco-cultural and economic outcomes.”

Unlike some other aspects of Australian law, securing a successful title determination under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) requires the subsequent appointment or establishment of a corporation to uphold and manage that determination, called a Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC).

Usually consisting of a small and passionate workforce, PBCs successfully operate several commercial activities in relation to the land they manage. These activities include land and national park management, mining rehabilitation, cultural heritage protection, tourism accommodation, investment strategies, ongoing business development, media liaison, consultation services and more.

In 2013, Costello assumed his position as CEO for the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC) – the PBC for the native title determination over Minjerribah, aka North Stradbroke Island.

Under his watch, QYAC successfully established cultural heritage consultation services, local tourism businesses, and land and sea Country management programs, as well as cultural events and performances throughout the region. There is even a sub-contracting arm in the local area.

“My vision for the future for the Quandamooka people is to continue their goals of securing the recognition of the rest of their estate, and to use our traditional knowledge to work collaboratively with government and industry to increase education, economic participation and business growth,” Costello said.

“Indigenous Business Month is extremely important for driving this, as well as celebrating existing Indigenous business excellence.

“Raising the awareness of the value of Indigenous professionals within business and encouraging more Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesspeople into the profession is essential.”

This is an image of Cameron Costello sitting on edge of the water.

Matthew Jones

As UQ graduate Matthew Jones reflects on the 10 years he has devoted to business and professional services, he can’t help but acknowledge the barriers his father faced to simply gain an education.   

“Thinking back only one generation, my father – who lived in Bowen and whose father was from Darnley Island, – needed a certificate of exemption as an Indigenous Australian just to go to primary school. He wasn’t even allowed to live in town,” Jones said.

“As an Indigenous professional in business today, it’s hard to ever forget this. We still see such a small number of us around.”

The proud Torres Strait Islander man and Master of Business Administration (2019) graduate recently stepped out on his own to establish Malu Pty Ltd, a management consulting firm based in the greater Brisbane area.

Specialising in the analysis of business and financial modelling, Malu (which means 'deep water' in Torres Strait Islander Pidgin) helps local businesses establish their own success, with significant attention to detail when it comes to their Indigenous engagement strategies.

While some organisations have increased engagement with Indigenous businesses as part of the Federal Indigenous Procurement Policy, Jones said Australia still had a long way to go.

“[Indigenous Australians] spent the last two centuries surviving. I want to change that to thriving and flourishing,” he said.

“The role of legislation in this process is important, but policy makers need to refine how they work with Indigenous businesses to ensure it’s done in a respectful and sustainable manner.

“With an uptake of Indigenous people in areas of business, this relationship will improve, slowly but surely.”

Jones grew up in Toowoomba before moving to Brisbane to complete his undergraduate studies (Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of International Business, Graduate Diploma in Charted Accounting).

“I’ve always led a busy lifestyle,” Jones said.

“If I go back to my undergraduate days, I recall working three jobs and playing sport on weekends, while still securing the distinctions in my coursework that I strived for.”

Jones completed his MBA at UQ while juggling full-time work and raising two children under the age of three.

“My wife was pregnant with our first child when I started the MBA and, by the time I finished, she was pregnant with our third.”

Jones admits that the traditional corporate world didn’t resonate with him, and instead identified that business was about giving back and helping others.

“As a business professional in my 30s, I want to support my family and, in doing so, provide opportunities and drive growth for other Indigenous business owners to do the same,” he said.

“I’ve been given so many wonderful opportunities and privileges. I want to make sure that I help those within my broader community who haven't had the same opportunities. I want to ensure those skill sets are transferred.

“There's a number of Indigenous cultural practices that could be exceptionally relevant to the success of business at large.

“Understanding where a person is from, and their mindset, helps you to see through their lens. Business then becomes about making a relationship, rather than a transaction.

“Another example is the notion of mentorship. Indigenous people almost intuitively mentor younger First Nations or Indigenous peoples. Where some Australians might stop to think about becoming a mentor, culturally, we’re wired to play a role in sharing knowledge and paying it forward.

“During Indigenous Business Month, and even beyond, it’s about identifying the opportunities in front of us – both individually as Indigenous Australians and more broadly as Australians. We need to take advantage of these differences.”

MBA Indigenous student scholarships

This is an image of Matthew Jones among the Great Court cloisters at UQ.

Economics Indigenous student scholarships

Economists care about principles of equality, dignity and respect, and find solutions for poorly designed programs, policies and issues of access. By growing the number of Indigenous economists at UQ, research can be expanded, and solutions can be developed with communities by people who understand them.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Economics Postgraduate Support Endowment 

Your donation to the UQ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Economics Postgraduate Support Endowment can create measurable and enduring social change by providing new higher education opportunities for Indigenous students. 

Relationships, respect, opportunities

The UQ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (ATSIS) Unit strongly supports the celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and recognises the enormous contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and perspectives bring to UQ’s Learning, Discovery and Engagement activities.