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$13.6m to expand efforts for First Nations international trade

David Prestipino -

The Federal Goverment has committed $13.6 million over four years to boost international trade and investment opportunities for Indigenous communities.

The funding is designed to enhance Indigenous collaboration and engagement with partners across the Indo-Pacific through a newly-established Office for First Nations International Engagement, led by inaugural First Nations People ambassador Justin Mohamed.

Mr Mohamed, a Gooreng Gooreng man from Bundaberg in Queensland, was chosen in March to head the government's Office of First Nations Engagement within DFAT.

He is charged with informing the way Australia engages with the world and ensuring the government delivers its commitment to embed Indigenous perspectives, experiences, and interests into Australia's foreign policy, as well as work with the National Indigenous Australians Agency responsible for allocating billions of dollars in federal funding for Indigenous services.

The recent funding commitment would expand the capabilities of the Office to further embed Indigenous perspectives into Australia's foreign policy after the recent Voice to Parliament referendum.

The funding will help develop a pilot First Nations trade and investment advisory group, a First Nations Visitor Economy Partnership, establish support for the use of the intellectual property system to protect Indigenous knowledge, and nurture greater First Nations business participation through Austrade's programs and services.

Mr Mohamed's team is currently working with First Nations people to identify new collaborative opportunities for First Nations communities and international partners such as intellectual property and exports, climate change, tourism and development.

"This is an important step in ensuring Australia has dedicated First Nations representation in our international engagement, and Indigenous communities share in the benefits of this work," a DFAT spokesperson said.

The establishment of this Office supports DFAT's commitment under the 2023 National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

Dr Hannah McGlade, a Noongar law academic and member of the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, said there was renewed interest in Indigenous rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and an offical First Nations ambassador was essential after the "devastating" move to establish a Voice to Parliament.

"As the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples recommended nearly a decade ago in 2014, nation states should develop National Action Plans to realise the rights set out in the UN Declaration," she wrote earlier this month in the National Indigenous Times.

She said Australia wasn't alone in failing to progress the Declaration and recent recommendations from a Senate Inquiry included the federal government ensure legislation and policy on matters concerning First Nations people be consistent with the UNDRIP.

"Further, any National Action Plan should consider the legislative, policy, and other approaches to implement, and assess compliance with, UNDRIP across all jurisdictions, and include coordination agreements with all levels of government," she wrote.

Dr McGlade said it was not surprising independent Senator Lidia Thorpe's private member's Bill to implement UNDRIP was not passed, given previous lack of attention to UNDRIP in Australia.

"This was particularly so under conservative Liberal governments, who limited Indigenous international engagement in UN forums and in a tokenistic manner, contrary to the principle of self-determination... for example, deciding on Indigenous meeting representatives," she said.

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