On 16 and 17 July, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs held public hearings in Parliament House, Brisbane. The committee is responding to long-standing calls from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, members of the community and industry for action and are tasked with investigating possible legal responses to the growing presence of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘style’ art and crafts products and merchandise for sale across Australia. Read about the inquiry.
QUT Law School academics, Professor Matthew Rimmer and Dr Kylie Pappalardo, and intellectual property lawyer and QUT MPhil student, Stephanie Parkin, were invited to appear before the committee. Other members of the community were also invited to give evidence after filing submissions with the committee, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and business owners, wholesalers and representatives from the Queensland Government.
Professor Rimmer spoke about the long history of struggles around Indigenous intellectual property in Australia, and the approaches that international law bodies and other countries have taken to combat similar problems elsewhere. Many of these struggles and approaches are documented in a recent collection on Indigenous Intellectual Property, edited by Professor Rimmer.
Ms Parkin provided a written submission to the committee in November 2017 and at the hearing spoke about why accurate labelling of foreign-created and controlled ‘Aboriginal style’ art and products is not enough to protect the legal interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Ms Parkin, a Quandamooka person from North Stradbroke Island, is undertaking her Master of Philosophy research project on the prevalence of fake art and products in Australia and the gaps in legal protection for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
‘There are a variety of issues at play here and any proposed solution must include both legal reform and non-legal remedies, including educational campaigns for consumers and long-term support for artists and art centres. In my view, the existence of inauthentic Aboriginal art and products must also cause us to reflect how we, as a nation, value and respect Aboriginal cultural expression,’ said Ms Parkin.
Dr Pappalardo discussed the deficiencies in copyright law for protecting Indigenous art from exploitation. She also highlighted lessons raised by Indigenous artists attending a symposium held at QUT in June on Protecting Indigenous Artwork from Exploitation, including the importance of policies to support the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists within Australian communities.
The committee has a continuing schedule of public hearings around the country. They aim to identify ways to prevent the misuse and exploitation of cultural expression through inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and products.