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Greens call for end to fake Indigenous art trade


South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young plans to introduce legislation to federal Parliament to ban the import and sale of fake Aboriginal art, souvenirs and cultural items.

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According to the Arts Law Centre of Australia, about 80 per cent of Aboriginal art pieces sold to tourists in Australia are counterfeit reproductions imported from countries such as Indonesia and China.

Hanson-Young said Aboriginal artists were being “ripped off” by the lucrative fake trade, which the Arts Law Centre estimates to turn over about $200 million each year.

Under Australia’s Competition and Consumer laws, it is not illegal to sell “fake” Aboriginal and Torres Strait artwork, so long as the seller does not label the pieces as authentic. The pieces must also have a label stating where they are made.

But the Greens argue sellers are able to trick customers into believing fake cultural items are authentic by displaying labels such as “Australia” and “handmade” and images of kangaroos.

The proposed amendment to competition and consumer legislation would create an offence carrying a maximum penalty of $25,000 for an individual and $200,000 for a company for the supply of items that include Indigenous cultural expression without an arrangement with a relevant Indigenous community or artist.

Hanson-Young said the Bill would put an end to Aboriginal artists being “ripped off” from fake counterfeits.

“Fake Aboriginal art robs Aboriginal artists of income and exposure, and the Parliament can do something about this,” she said.

“Hundreds of thousands of tourists come to our shores each year and too many of them leave with souvenirs that they may think are supporting local artists, but they are not.”

A federal Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs inquiry is currently underway into the growing presence of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-style art.

South Australian Aboriginal art organisation Ananguku Arts and Culture Aboriginal Corporation said in its submission to the inquiry that current federal and state laws provided inadequate protection for cultural expression in objects such as ‘Aboriginal style’ merchandise.

It recommended that if legislative changes occurred, the government should also develop an education campaign for consumers, retailers and artists to better alert them to counterfeit products.

Hanson-Young said the Greens took part in the standing committee’s inquiry and their announcement today was about acting on “long-term stakeholder engagement and national conversation”.

Greens candidate for Mayo and Ngarrindjeri elder Major ‘Moogy’ Sumner said he often saw Aboriginal artists being exploited and overlooked when it came to producing art for larger markets.

“It is heartbreaking to see artworks marked as ‘authentic’ when they’ve been created in another country and sent over here without any input from Aboriginal people,” he said.

“All the way down the production line the people who are profiting are not Aboriginal artists.”

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