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Australian Current Affairs

Australian Aboriginals blast indigenous job scheme as “token gesture”


Julie Collins at IEDS Launch

Julie Collins at IEDS Launch

Aboriginal elder Dennis Foley has blasted the federal government’s Indigenous Economic Development Strategy, claiming that employing indigenous people in the public sector is not indigenous economic development.

The University of Newcastle professor told a national small business forum in Sydney Aboriginal entrepreneurs were the biggest employers of Aborigines and that government needed to move beyond tokenism.

Indigenous builders at the conference said indigenous business was often asked to tender for government construction contracts, but the invitation never resulted in work and was more of a “ticking the boxes” exercise for the bureaucrats.

Aboriginal business owner Martin Smith, who runs an indigenous carpentry company in the Hunter Valley, said the conference was a chance to tell people what was “really going on”.

“Everybody still thinks indigenous business gets everything, (but) we don’t,” he said. “Everything I’ve worked for I’ve done myself.”

Mr Smith said part of the problem in the industry was that firms often employed indigenous labourers for large-scale projects instead of contracting indigenous-run businesses.

“Why can’t they engage a business like me and I’ll create employment (for) indigenous people — I’ll employ young fellows and train them up to be carpenters and tradespeople.”

Under the IEDS, the government has committed an extra $6.8 million to Supply Nation, a body designed to connect indigenous firms with corporate and government contracts.

Mr Smith said his firm had been registered with Supply Nation for almost two years, but had yet to win any business.

“They have sent me links to some of their clients that have tenders out at the moment but I’m still tendering against everyone else. I’m not getting any preference because I’m an Aboriginal company.

“Theoretically, that’s what is supposed to happen, but it doesn’t.”

Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development Julie Collins said the government had expanded the Indigenous Opportunities Policy to cover commonwealth procurement above $6m threshold.

“We have made significant procurement policy changes to increase opportunities for indigenous businesses in direct contracting with government and through the supply chains of major contractors,” she said.

Source: The Australian – Indigenous job plan a token move: elder
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