Indigenous people need alternate employment pathways



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With diverse backgrounds, experiences and learning, Indigenous people can’t get entry points into the workforce through one level, Carey Group Holdings Chief Executive Officer, Allan James has told a CEDA audience.

Speaking at CEDA's Indigenous business leadership event in Perth, Mr James said  "recognise that Indigenous people, we come from very diverse backgrounds, experiences, and learning. We all can’t get entry points into the workforce through one level.

"I have to stress the importance of having alternate pathways when it comes to employment.

“Identify people very early on, even primary level, and nurture them through.

“The other important thing around the employment and education sector, is having tangible opportunities at the end of it, that’s not always easy.

“If you can create pathways, have partnerships with either government or industry which leads to full time meaningful work, that’s what the aspiration should be.”

Mr James said other important aspects for Indigenous business included:

  • mentorship to ensure communication and support;
  • support of cultural differences including protocols;
  • forming relationships with Indigenous groups including both Traditional Owners and Non-Government organisations wherever the organisation is working.
Speaking on policy, Mr James said “when you’re shaping these policies, when you’re putting them in practice...you cannot isolate Indigenous strategies, Indigenous policies, without actually touching the heart of who Aboriginal people are.”

“All of us are intrinsically connected to the land, connected to the environment.”

Woodside Vice President of People and Global Capability, Jacky Connolly, also spoke on employment, advocacy and education for Indigenous people.

“We have been challenging ourselves at Woodside from just setting targets to be much more focused on outcomes…(and) how do we get sustainable outcomes, so we can focus on the next outcome,” she said.

“We’ve learnt that deepening relationships is critical to success.”

Ms Connolly said examples included one with a local school where they provide scholarships and identify talent to bring into Woodside.

“It’s investing in peoples training and development, so they can take those steps to finishing their education because there is a lot of things working against them that prohibits them to do that.”

KPMG Director, Glen Kelly reflected on the status of the Indigenous business sector.

“The Indigenous Business sector in Australia, is effectively in my view, on the ground floor,” he said.

“I’ve dug out a few figures and…Indigenous business across the country generates somewhere around $1.5 billion in revenue.

“This is actually a pretty good result…in comparison to say five years ago but is tiny relative to the country and relative to indigenous economies in other countries.

“For example, the New Zealand economy…around the $200 billion US mark.

“The Maori economy within that is estimated to be $50 billion.

“Maori produce 40 per cent of New Zealand’s forestry, 50 per cent of this fish, 30 per cent of land production, 30 per cent of beef, 10 per cent of dairy, 10 per cent of kiwi fruit production.

“If we were equivalent, WA’s Indigenous economy alone would be worth around US $45 billion. The Australian Indigenous economy would be worth around US $300 billion.”

Mr Kelly said while it isn’t a valid comparison, he said it does serve to show where we are. He also discussed the Indigenous economy in Alaska.

“There’s a really important feature of the NZ and Alaskan examples, not only do they seek to overcome the same barriers that I talked about previously, and drive prosperity but they put enormous resource into social and cultural programs as well,” he said.

“Businesses are viewed through a cultural lens, and cultural values are consciously and overtly applied to business decisions and investment decisions.

“If we keep on the path we’re on now, we can make good steps towards this in the next decade.

“At the national level we’ve had the Commonwealth Indigenous Procurement Policy since the middle of 2015 and this has really driven a huge amount of growth in the sector. The Federal IPP has a number of flaws as do all policies but in my view is probably the best indigenous affairs policy that has ever existed in Australia.

“It really hasn’t had a lot of impact in WA. Most of the business opportunities from the direct Commonwealth spend exist in the eastern states and that’s because that’s where the spend of the Commonwealth is situated…reflected by the concentration of Indigenous businesses in NSW and South East Queensland.

“According to Federal Government figures, 60 per cent of Indigenous business is located in those two places, about 10 per cent in WA.

“The State IPP is an excellent development in this area, unlike the Federal IPP it will have an impact here in WA. It will massively broaden the foundation of opportunities that aboriginal businesses can take advantage of, it will steady the sector and it will assist its growth.

“Many of the services provided by Indigenous businesses are at risk of being automated.

“There is flux in the sector.

“To a certain degree this is normal, but we need to remember the sector is in its infancy, and that it has enormous utility in overcoming the structural barriers. For that reason, intervention to support it is required.”

Indigenous Land Corporation and Indigenous Business Australia Chairman, Eddie Fry discussed the Indigenous Estate.

“The Indigenous Estate includes all the tangible and all the non-tangible assets that reside in it – land and water being tangible, cultural pursuits and all the things that go with the IP of Indigenous people and the country,” he said.

“Roughly just a tad over one million square kilometres of land that is held in title.

“The Aboriginal footprint is growing, and it will continue to grow over the years.

“Ideally, we would like to identify and communicate all the opportunities and the risks and the priorities and provide advice on identifying pathways for engagement to ensure the outcomes are sustainable and directed towards achieving sustainability and achieving economic independence.

“We don’t get a lot of capital or appropriations from the government, about 80-85 per cent of our money is self-generated and we pour that back in.

“Part of the business model is to invest in a business, invest in their capability and exit with the amount of money we invested in.

“An example is on Stradbroke Island, a tourism operation we invested $7 million in, by the time we got them to buy us out, we walked out with about $7.1 million.”

Looking ahead, Mr Fry said they wanted to move away from being a direct operator in the assets.

“What we want to do is get into a capital budget, capital management, capital investment into these Indigenous groups so they get to run their organisation, we invest in their capability and bring in third party operators to under write that capacity,” he said.

“That way, they get to grow their own business.”

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