Bob Katter in Parliament where he introduced a law to protect artists and the marketplace from fake Indigenous art and artefacts

Jeremy Eccles | 14.02.17

Author: Jeremy Eccles
News source: Research

Yesterday independent MP Bob Katter introduced a private bill to the Federal Parliament which he hopes will stop non-Indigenous people - including foreigners - from exploiting and profiting from the "oldest culture on earth" through the sale of fake Aboriginal art, souvenirs and cultural items.

"Ninety percent of the stuff being sold is rubbish, which our First Australians get nothing out of", he told the Lower House. "If there be one thing that First Australians be allowed to keep and own it is their own culture."

Mr Katter claimed up to 80 per cent of tourist shops and markets sold 'Aboriginal style' souvenirs, many of which were imported from overseas. Then he showed the House the difference between a pair of authentic Aboriginal clapping sticks and one made in Asia. "I'm sick of buying for my kid's clap sticks that don't clap, bullroarers that don't roar, boomerangs that don't come back and woomeras that won't mount a spear".

The Arts Law Centre of Australia, Indigenous Art Code and the copyright agency, Viscopy, have all thrown their support behind the proposed legislation. “It's been an issue of concern for the community for some time”, they said in a joint statement. "This is an opportunity to ensure that Indigenous communities and artists regain control of goods that bear their art, their culture, what belongs to them; that consumers are not misled; and that ethical businesses are recognised," Indigenous Art Code (IartC) CEO Gabrielle Sullivan said.

A criminal law making such 'passing off' illegal and capable of being prosecuted by a body such as the ACCC would, at last, give the IartC some teeth. Membership of the Code is not mandatory, and the organisation has so far been unable to legally prosecute unethical dealers. The Government – particularly the Attorney-General Sen. Brandis – has resisted all calls for legislation up until now, so it will be interesting to see how Bob Katter's project is received and how important his vote is on other matters.

The three organisations want a licensing scheme in place before the Commonwealth Games in Queensland next year bring an anticipated flood of knock-off work. Under Mr Katter's proposed scheme, all products sold as Aboriginal craft would have to be licensed and carry a logo in a similar fashion to the already existing Australian Made logo.

"That certification would be given by a board … only on the basis that you can prove somewhere in your family tree you've got a First Australian," Mr Katter said.

A 'Fake Art Harms Culture Campaign' was launched last year at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair in August and the campaign then went to Desert Mob in Alice Springs in September and Homeground at the Sydney Opera House in October.

But it was only in December that the Code finally secured funding to redevelop its defective website. In the near future, “it will support Members by providing a structure whereby Members can promote their ethical practice by providing more information about themselves, their business models, and in the case of Dealer and Artist Members, examples of their work or the types of works they sell” - in effect copying Aboriginal Art Directory functionality - "to easily search for places/Members based on keywords, art type, and location etc., and where they can view/buy indigenous art ethically”.

Recent research by the IartC, Arts Law and the Copyright Agency's Viscopy indicates that there is a huge amount of ‘Aboriginal-style’ arts and crafts available for sale in outlets primarily directed at the tourist market in the major tourist precincts around Australia such as the Rocks and Circular Quay in Sydney, Swanston Street and Victoria Markets in Melbourne, and the main tourism precincts in Adelaide, Alice Springs, Cairns, Darwin, Fremantle and Perth.

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Fake 'art' as discovered by the Arts Law Centre, the Indigenous Art Code and Viscopy on sale in tourist precincts around Australia


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