This Committee looks to inquire into and report on the growing presence of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘style’ art and craft products and merchandise for sale across Australia. It is the perception of ‘a growing presence’ that appears to have caught the attention of the Minister for Indigenous affairs when referring this issue for attention. If it is indeed the case that inauthentic (or fake) Indigenous art sales are growing then there is a distinct possibility that the economic wellbeing of those Indigenous Australians that are dependent on this sector for cash income will be undermined; and that the cultural integrity of Indigenous arts generally will be jeopardised.
On equity grounds alone it is unchallengeable, in my view, that Indigenous Australians should benefit from their intangible property rights in cultural assets; and have the right to see these presented in the market with integrity. It is also unchallengeable that producers or retailers who behave unscrupulously or illegally and who might extract excessive economic rent (profit) from the sale of inauthentic Indigenous arts and crafts products and merchandise should be stopped and potentially prosecuted and penalised.
But the question of what is authentic Indigenous art is a deeply complex issue that has troubled stakeholders in the Indigenous arts sector, and especially the manufactured tourist art sector on which this Inquiry focuses, since its emergence alongside Australian tourism 50 years ago. However, it is extremely difficult to accurately assess the prevalence of this problem and so to develop regulations that can realistically address it.