Birubi Art has been handed a $2.3m fine by the Federal Court in Sydney for misleading consumers into believing they were buying genuine Aboriginal Art.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) sought legal action against the wholesaler last October, alleging the company sold over 18,000 pieces of fake Indigenous art between July 2015 and November 2017 which featured on boomerangs, didgeridoos, message stones and bullroarers.
Birubi Art used words such as ‘Aboriginal Art’, ‘genuine’ and ‘Australia’ on their products when the items were in fact manufactured and made in Indonesia.
However, in handing down the decision on Wednesday, Justice Melissa Perry said that the ACCC "is not able to take steps against the respondent" in enforcing the fine unless referring to the court first.
Earlier this month at a penalty hearing, Senior General Counsel Tim Begbie, acting on behalf of the ACCC, asked for a $2m to $2.5m penalty against Birubi Art.
Mr Begbie said it was appropriate because the misconduct by Birubi led to “grave and far-reaching” harm and contributed to not only a “direct economic loss but a weakening of the value of the authentic products”.
“Harms are so serious and go straight to the questions of consumers being misled… also cultural harm to Indigenous people,” he said.
At that hearing, Justice Perry said the penalties that ACC were seeking was "very substantial" and could be seen as "oppressive" as the company is in liquidation.
The company went into liquidation last October after the Court found they breached Australian Consumer Law by misleading buyers.
"I consider that penalties totalling $2.3 million are appropriate and just for Birubi's conduct," said Justice Perry on Wednesday.
She said Ben Wooster, former managing director of Birubi Art, wrote in cross-examination that he did not intend to mislead consumers, but companies must be alert and show “diligence to make sure this doesn’t happen”.
The case can “act as an education to people”, she said, to help others understand just how important Indigenous art and culture is to Aboriginal people.