Aboriginal firms ready and able to get down to business

Aboriginal firms ready and able to get down to business

By Gordon Cole

The new financial year marks the beginning of new opportunities for WA’s Aboriginal business owners and the communities they represent.

From 1 July, the Aboriginal Procurement Policy commenced, which includes mandatory targets for State Government contracting with Aboriginal-owned businesses and organisations.

This economic watershed brings WA into line with the Commonwealth which has so far brought about significant investment in Aboriginal businesses through its Commonwealth Indigenous Procurement Policy, which started in 2015.

In its first two years, the IPP awarded 4880 contracts to 956 Aboriginal-owned businesses with a total value of $594 million. In the 2016-17 financial year $13.8 million of those contracts were awarded to 93 businesses in WA. For me and my fellow directors of the Noongar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), the timing of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt’s State policy could not be better.

We have been toiling away at building our commercial offerings, negotiating our way into the board rooms of corporations and in front of government decision-makers — seeking to demonstrate our value and explain the extraordinary social impact which is created when an Aboriginal-owned business is contracted.

We know an Aboriginal- owned business is 100 times more likely to employ Aboriginal staff than a non-Aboriginal owned business. We know the answer to many of our social ills lies in education, employment and economic participation. We are ready and willing to participate.

Nonetheless, we continue to be perplexed by the good will we encounter from CEOs, boards and tender panels who talk about how they want to get involved but still seem to have trouble turning it into something real. Now, with a clear and progressive State policy, we have a starting position to get the good will converted into signatures on paper and dollar signs on invoices. We can start some more serious discussions about getting on board with Aboriginal service providers, contractors and suppliers.

In March, the Department of Finance hosted an Aboriginal business forum where a whole host of providers were spruiking their wares. How heartening for this boy from Koondoola to see my friends and colleagues telling potential buyers about their businesses in security services, road contracting, event management, communications, recruitment, catering, landscaping, facility management, tourism, project management… you get the idea.

The range of Aboriginal- owned businesses is as broad and diverse as our community and the interests and passions we have as individuals and families. We are more than just beneficiaries of the economy, we are major contributors.

Just as many of Australia’s migrant families (and some of WA’s biggest businesses) have found strength and economic independence through family-run business, we often seek to work with our brothers, sisters, children and parents too.

The Aboriginal Procurement Policy starts with a one per cent target for Aboriginal procurement in 2018-19, meaning agencies will have to report against the proportion of their contracts (greater than $50,000) which have been awarded to Aboriginal owned businesses. By 2020-21, the target will be three per cent. While Mr Wyatt encourages application of the policy and achievement of the targets, any private entity hoping to secure a State Government contract is likely to be considered favourably if they can assist the agency to meet their targets while offering value for money.

As a business advocacy group for Aboriginal-owned businesses in the South-West, NCCI is working to connect our members with the broader business community. We believe in the commercial economy, contracts and jobs as the answer to addressing social disadvantage in our communities. We are unashamed to promote our purpose as “building capacity and wealth for Noongar people.” I can’t wait to see more Noongar faces involved in every aspect of the economy. I am optimistic about the opportunities. This is not about spending new money — it’s about investing consciously and creating a social impact far beyond the value of the contract.

Gordon Cole is chair of the Noongar Chamber of Commerce and Industry