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The Australian National University

Indigenous community stores in the 'frontier economy': some competition and consumer issues

Discussion Paper 234 / 2002


This paper examines key competition and consumer issues faced by Aboriginal people in remote Aboriginal communities, with particular reference to the provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (TPA). The research was commissioned by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and addresses the implications for the operation of the TPA of some specific economic practices of Aboriginal consumers and Aboriginal businesses. The research that informs this paper consisted of a literature review and fieldwork undertaken in 2001 in community stores in four communities and two pastoral station stores.

The first part of this paper establishes a conceptual framework, termed the 'frontier economy', through which issues relevant to Aboriginal consumers and businesses can be explored. Part two of the paper reviews the ways in which some Aboriginal consumers engage with the market, as part of a discussion of the 'special characteristics' of Aboriginal consumers that potentially leave them vulnerable to commercial exploitation. It argues that certain transactions may be both commercially exploitative and instances of instrumental Aboriginal action, or agency. Moving from consumers to Aboriginal businesses, part three examines factors which may inhibit the operation of competitive markets in remote Aboriginal communities, with reference to the operation of community stores. Finally, part four of the paper returns to the concepts of the 'frontier economy' and Aboriginal agency, and discusses the implications of these concepts for ACCC compliance and education strategies.

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