RBA said it could improve economic outcomes for Indigenous Australians

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Michele Bullock, deputy governor at the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), right, and Guy Debelle, deputy governor (Photographer: Mark Dadswell / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
  • The RBA pledged to scale up its initiatives to improve employment and wealth outcomes for Indigenous Australians, in a recent panel.
  • Banking and access to finance should be areas where central banks could do more to help communities, RBA Deputy Governor Guy Debelle said.
  • The Australian Central Bank formed a voluntary network with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) and the Bank of Canada (BoC) to improve knowledge sharing in April.
  • Visit the Business Insider Australia homepage for more stories.

Monetary metrics cannot solve the critical issues facing Indigenous Australians, the RBA admitted in recent remarks, but they aim to help improve employment and wealth outcomes.

Speaking on Tuesday at a panel with counterparts from the Federal Reserve, Bank of Canada and Reserve Bank of New Zealand, RBA deputy governor Guy Debelle said there were opportunities to deepen our understanding of First Nations peoples in the Australian economy.

“In our own operations – our jobs, our purchases and our role in the community – we have the opportunity to do more.”

Debelle pointed out that Indigenous Australians face lower life expectancy and worse health outcomes than the rest of the country.

The death rate from heart problems among Indigenous Australians is 1.6 times that of non-Indigenous Australians, for example.

As a result, he said, they also see lower labor market participation, higher unemployment and lower wealth.

Indigenous Australians between the ages of 18 and 64 received a government pension or cash allowance as their main source of income in 2018-19.

Almost 37% of Indigenous adults lived in households with the lowest gross weekly family income, nearly double the proportion of non-Indigenous adults, according to the 2016 census.

Debelle’s comments highlight how economic well-being and inclusion are becoming increasingly important to central banks around the world as they move beyond their traditional remits of inflation and employment. Policy makers increasingly regard the quality of life of the population as an important factor in the economy.

The Federal Government is also working to improve the quality of life of Indigenous Australians, with a plan to close the gap in health, education, justice and employment by 2031.

The vice governor, who heads the RBA’s Diversity and Inclusion Board, said banking and access to finance should be areas where central banks could do more to help communities.

Successful initiatives in this space should be shared between different countries, said Debelle, highlighting New Zealand’s work to strengthen engagement with indigenous communities.

In April, the RBA announced that it had joined the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) and the Bank of Canada (BoC), as well as indigenous partners from the three countries, form a voluntary network which aims to “promote continuous dialogue and raise awareness of indigenous economic and financial issues”.

The network will focus on research for and with indigenous peoples on economic issues, strengthening engagement practices with indigenous groups and communities, and supporting economic and financial education for indigenous peoples.

“Participation in this network will allow us to increase our knowledge and understanding of indigenous communities both locally and globally,” said RBA Governor Philip Lowe.

In addition, the RBA has established an action plan for reconciliation and is establishing a scholarship program for First Nations high school students to study economics and finance.

He is also working with First Nations businesses and Indigenous Chambers of Commerce, and will host business roundtables to better understand the issues they face in obtaining capital.

Debelle said there was also a need for better economic data to help inform policymakers about where they can impact indigenous communities.

“The challenges they face are quite varied depending on what part of the country they find themselves in. The only way for us to become fully aware of this is to go out and meet these people,” Debelle said, stressing the importance of the RBA engagement program.


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