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Superannuation summit helps Indigenous workers secure financial future

David Prestipino -

A First Nations superannuation summit has identified key focus areas a special working group will address in the coming 12 months to help Indigenous people leverage their retirement funds and future financial wellbeing.

Key findings released this week from the 2024 First Nations Super Summit in February, attended by 130 people in Sydney found Indigenous people had considered the practice of saving for retirement only recently, and superannuation regarded in a similar light by some Aboriginal communities to historical wrongs, such as wage garnishment.

Yorta Yorta man Ian Hamm, chairman of summit host, the First Nations Foundation, said Indigenous people had long been resilient to systemic barriers, and should be regarded as adaptive, skilled and capable of contributing to their own financial security. 

"We are a people of great capacity and capability. We've adapted to our social, cultural, economic and environmental circumstances for tens of thousands of years, especially so at an accelerated rate over the last 240 years," he said. 

He said the 2024 summit was a huge step to addressing critical issues impeding First Nations workers from a comfortable retirement.

"Our social and societal structures have enabled us to withstand and progress in the modern world, and may serve as an example to our fellow Australians," Mr Hamm said. 

"We contribute to this nation; it would be less of a country than it is if we weren't here.

"We don't talk enough about what we bring to this country already. 

"That's who we are as a people; we are not a series of problems to be fixed. We are people of great possibility. All that we lack is the opportunities to fulfil that possibility."

FIVE KEY FOCUS AREAS:

Economic empowerment was regularly referenced at the 2024 summit, which aimed to address critical issues Indigenous communities - and the financial and counselling experts who support them - encounter, as well as priority focus areas for super funds and governments to enhance their services for Indigenous customers in 2024 and beyond.

The FNF's specialist superannuation team would now address key issues in the next year, including:

- The standardisation of forms
- Improving how financial experts and counsellors represent Indigenous clients effectively and culturally
- Providing more financial literacy education for Indigenous communities
- Enabling super funds to recognise individuals as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders
- Acknowledging the significance of Indigenous kinship structures

"This effort ensures a future where all Indigenous people attain financial security and a dignified retirement," said the FNF, which in the past year located $1.2 million in superannuation for Indigenous people, with the foundation reconnecting more than $25m in super to First Nations retirees in total.

Aunty Joan Bell, a proud Wiradjuri and Gadigal woman, greeted summit attendees, welcoming them to Gadigal Country and paying respect to Traditional Owners of the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

AMP Head of Indigenous Programs Binowee Bayles, a descendant of Eora and Wonnarua Nations on her mother's side and Birri Gubba, Gungalu and Wulli Wulli Nations on her father’s side, said the summit's attendees had a shared purpose - to listen, learn, collaborate and craft a joint roadmap to address the socio-economic disparities faced by First Nations people.
 
She was among financial counsellors discussing the summit's first topic 'Exploring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship structures and deceased estates', a session facilitated by First Nations Foundation On Country program manager Destiny Dewis.

The panel discussed how First Nations people often had different kinship structures to non-Indigenous people, which currently weren't recognised by the superannuation industry, causing significant challenges when a family member passed away and their super wasn't accessible to rightful kin. 

This issue extends to deceased estates, where kin - despite being culturally appropriate beneficiaries - often encounter obstacles in applying for property inheritance. 

Panellists spoke from experience and shared case studies that revealed the impact of First Nations culture being cut off from the financial services sector.

"I'd like to leave you with a word, a word that I have learnt from Aunty Miriam Rose and that word is 'Dadirri’, to listen deeply," Ms Bayles said. 

"That's what I invite you all to do when out on Country and when working with First Nations people: Listen deeply with respect and empathy, as we meet in this space, the middle space I call reconciliation, where Indigenous and non-Indigenous come together as one, to live, to work and to coexist in harmony." 

Ms Dewis facilicated the second panel session 'Voices on the ground: systemic barriers to First Nations engagement with the superannuation system', which found although Australia was regarded as a leader in the retirement space, the system wasn't adequate for the entire population, with data from the recent Retirement Income Review showing First Nations people finished work with less super, compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

The third session 'How to Utilise Peak Industry Bodies and Better Assist Your First Nations Members' raised the several barriers to Indigenous people accessing and managing their super, and how best to utilise peak industry bodies better assist First Nations members.

FNF chair Ian Hamm, along with with key leaders from the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, Association of Superannuation Funds Australia and Super Members Council of Australia, debated how the industry could enhance internal policies and external advocacy for First Nations communities, sharing insights from their own experiences in the sector.

He said the First Nations Foundation strived to provide an Indigenous-led, community-centric model to improve financial security for the Indigenous workforce.

The First Nations Super Summit 2024 report can be found here.

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