Closing the Gap: Future of Defence and Indigenous Employment

When he retired from AFL football, Adam Goodes applied himself to a new life challenge: empowering the next generation of indigenous role models to achieve economic independence.  He co-founded the Indigenous Defence Consortium (IDC) and now works with State and Commonwealth governments and industry to maximise the engagement of indigenous owned companies.

“We’re not asking for a handout, but a hand-up” he explained during his presentation at a Closing the Gap seminar at the Crown complex in Perth in August. “Consideration”, he said, “should be given to sole sourcing contracts with indigenous businesses, or at least, to making pre qualification easier to achieve”.  He appealed to industry to reach out to indigenous businesses, to network with them, and not to make decisions purely on the lowest price.

Supply Nation assists this cause by offering free registration of businesses with more than indigenous ownership, enabling them to gain access to markets, partnerships and contracts through its network of corporate, government and not-for-profit members. The IDC adds an extra layer of assistance to assist indigenous firms in gaining business in the defence space.

Brigadeer Mark Brewer, responsible for indigenous development in the Australian Army, pointed out that indigenous people served in  the Great War of 1914-18 but were not at the time recognised as citizens.  Their status has changed and today the Army specifically seeks to recruit and develop indigenous persons. It has set the goal of a 5 participation rate and expects soon to pass the 3 mark.

In terms of the success of indigenous recruits, Brewer commented that the rate is slightly higher than the general rate, an achievement of which the Army is proud, considering the program has been in place only since 2011. He said that  of 366 indigenous persons recruited last financial year, 16 were at officer level.

Closing the Gap was the second event organised by recently established on-line journal, WA Defence Review, whose CEO, Serge DeSilva, remarked that  “This industry (defence) can do more to engage with indigenous businesses…..Ten to twenty years from now we may well have an indigenous Chief of Army.”

Chairperson on the day, Lt General Peter Leahy, former Chief of Army, noted that Closing the Gap was another example of  “WA leading the policy debate at a National level”  He said it was the stuff of which nation building is made.

The Event was made possible by the close cooperation of the American Chamber of Commerce with WA Defence Review and the generous support of three sponsors: Edith Cowan University, Regional Development Australia and Thuroona Services.

Several indigenous businesses displayed their banners at the event including Thuroona Services, a company operating in the demolition, hazardous materials removal and project management space.  Thuroona’s Sam Jackson said that of their business was with Defence projects.

Other indigenous businesses present included Maramara, a Pilbara based civil construction company; Indiya Geospatial,  Australia’s only Supply nation certified surveying company; and Pindari, another Pilbara based company specialising in electrical contracting, building maintenance, non-process infrastructure and HVAC.

Such enterprises provide functioning examples that Adam Goodes call for indigenous enterprises to be offered a hand-up, rather than a hand-out, has merit.

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