IP Australia releases Reconciliation Action Plan


IP Australia has released its Reconciliation Action Plan, which is designed to "promote a respect for the creativity and innovation of indigenous Australians for the benefit of indigenous people and all Australians".

The first act of the newly elected federal government on the opening of the parliamentary term was to formalize a national apology to Australia's indigenous people. In his address entitled "Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples" (delivered on February 13 2008), Prime Minister Rudd "honour[ed] the indigenous people of this land, the oldest continuing culture in human history" and opined on their "past mistreatment" and a need for people to "become fully reconciled to their past if they are to go forward with confidence to embrace the future".

In delivering his apology, Rudd promised practical measures to improve the lives of indigenous people. The April 11 2008 launch of the Reconciliation Action Plan of IP Australia, two months from the date of the national apology, is a statement of this intention.

IP Australia's declared goal is "to reshape our approach to indigenous affairs and support the reconciliation process". It proposes to achieve this by focusing on the following areas:

  • a culturally supportive organizational environment;

  • community engagement; and

  • policy development and implementation.

Each area is linked with a business objective for which underlying tasks are proposed. The plan suggests actions to achieve these tasks and allocates organizational responsibilities. The plan also provides timeframes and performance indicators.

The business objectives stated by IP Australia as being specific and measurable are the following:

  • to improve the understanding of indigenous culture to enable IP Australia to meet the needs of customers and to provide employment opportunities so that IP Australia is representative of the community in which it operates;

  • to increase the awareness of IP Australia to indigenous Australians and to engage in capacity building activities for indigenous communities and/or indigenous businesses; and

  • to analyze IP issues of relevance to the indigenous industry sector, develop appropriate policy and make recommendations as necessary to the Australian government.

Whether the objectives can be achieved by the proposed actions detailed in the report is a moot point at this stage. Arguably, some of the performance indicators are somewhat nebulous in proving achievement of the task. For example, how can a performance indicator which requires "demonstrating effective engagement and collaboration" be meaningfully assessed?

The spirit of reconciliation is also susceptible to some criticism. For example, there is silence on the possibility of a protection regime for indigenous cultural property other than to analyze "the issues of relevance to the indigenous industry sector" and to note that Australia will continue to be a participant of the World Intellectual Property Organization's Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore. The performance indicator for the task to "formulate policy on IP issues of relevance to indigenous Australians" is that "Australian key interests are addressed" (and not indigenous Australian key interests).

Therefore, the Reconciliation Action Plan is as much about what it does, not about what it says. At this stage, this may not be as important as the recognition that consideration of indigenous issues at a local level is necessary to move the reconciliation process forward.

Marion Heathcote, Davies Collison Cave, Sydney

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