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MoneyFor some Indigenous Australians, financial success is having food in the fridge

05:05  29 may  2019
05:05  29 may  2019 Source:   theage.com.au

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For some Indigenous Australians, financial success is having food in the fridge© Justin McManus Ian Hamm wants to see a national strategy for financial services to better serve Indigenous Australians.

In some of Australia's Indigenous communities, being "rich" might be as simple as having a full fridge.

"There's a really stark contrast in what people regard as wealth," said Yorta Yorta man Ian Hamm, chair of Indigenous financial literacy body the First Nations Foundation.

"That a population group in Australia thinks having enough to eat is actually success is a shocking indictment of where we are."

The finding comes from 'Money Matters', a report released on Wednesday by the First Nations Foundation, NAB and the Social Impact Centre. It surveyed over 600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to examine what financial resilience meant to them.

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The report confirms Indigenous Australians experience disproportionate financial disadvantage: half of people surveyed were experiencing severe or high financial stress, compared to 11 per cent of the broader Australian population, and Indigenous Australians were more likely to borrow credit from payday lenders.

Fewer than two in five Indigenous respondents said they could access $2,000 for an emergency, compared with four in five from the wider population, while 54 per cent found it difficult to meet living expenses.

But Mr Hamm hopes the report's focus on social and cultural norms among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will help the financial sector "understand how we live our lives".

"Aboriginal people think of ourselves as a collective," Mr Hamm said. "That has many strengths but also comes with obligations. One of those is that you share what you have."

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Three-quarters of respondents said they shared money with their family and nearly half said their family helped them with money "often" or "a lot".

"We have a much broader understanding of what family is," Mr Hamm said. "In a financial sense, it means people will come to you and seek your financial assistance, and you have an unwritten obligation to support them in that."

More than half of the respondents said they did not have any savings, compared to 13.5 per cent of people in the wider population.

While this is partly a consequence of economic disparities, the report said cultural considerations were also relevant to understanding behaviour around savings.

Mr Hamm said this was an area where the finance sector needed to balance individual needs with cultural values.

"I think the presumption of a lot of public policy in any Aboriginal space is that Aboriginal people want to be like non-Aboriginal people. It’s an incorrect assumption," he said.

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"It would be nice to not live in poverty, to have equity in home ownership and opportunity. But not at the cost of the cultural identity of who we are."

The report says initiatives such as the cashless welfare card in remote Australia have made an important way of caring for family - sharing cash - more difficult.

Common challenges span diverse settings

Mr Hamm also said a historical lack of "finance acumen" was something that affected Indigenous people around the country.

"Our younger people are now starting to move into an economy where they’ve got greater opportunity than any of the generations before them. In remote communities there’s been a lot of outcome through native title and mining royalties, or in urban populations there’s potential for being part of the gig or service economy," he said.

"What do they do with that money? There’s no intergenerational inherited knowledge of what to do with it because previous generations haven’t had that."

However Mr Hamm said understanding the diversity of Australia's Indigenous communities would be equally as important to redressing disadvantage.

"The Aboriginal community across Australia has very little in common," he said. "Urban settings are so divergent from remote settings, you need a completely different approach to them."

Survey respondents in urban areas were more likely to experience both severe financial stress and financial security, showing a greater financial divide within cities, while 55 per cent of those in remote areas indicated high financial stress.

"In one sense, it’s easier to define the problems in remote communities because you can physically see the disadvantage in front of you," Mr Hamm said.

"When you look at the suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne, it’s much harder for people to concede the disadvantage people are facing because it’s not so physical, but it’s just as intensely social and economic. That's the stuff the finance sector needs to think about and understand."

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