Speech at the Supply Nation Connect 2014 Gala Dinner Awards Night, Sydney Town Hall, 27 May 2014

Release Date: 
27 May 2014
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Thank you for your introduction and warm welcome.

It is a pleasure to be here at the Supply Nation Connect 2014 Gala Dinner.

I’d like to pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the
Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and to their elders past and present.

I acknowledge His Excellency John Berry, Ambassador of the United States.  The example set by your country in relation to minority business development is an inspiration.
I acknowledge New South Wales Indigenous Affairs Minister Victor Dominello. May I extend my acknowledgement to Stephen Roberts, Chairman of the board of
Supply Nation, and the board of directors along with distinguished guests representing
many organisations at the forefront of indigenous advancement.

Last week the Council of Australian Governments reported on progress against our Closing the Gap targets.

The Report confirmed what the Prime Minister said in his statement earlier in the year:  we are doing well in some areas – reducing child mortality, improving access to pre-school and improving year 12 attainment.

But on three others we are not progressing, and in one in particular – employment – we are in fact going backwards.
Employment is listed in the Closing the Gap report as the 6th indicator, but in my view it is actually the most important.

Having a job is the great organiser in one’s life.  It gives structure, it gives economic independence, it gives individual dignity and empowerment.

When someone has a job, everything else tends to take care of itself.

I do not believe that we can be fully reconciled as a nation unless Indigenous people are engaged in the economy through real jobs at a similar rate as non-indigenous people.

But on current trajectories, we are not closing the gap – indeed the gap has widened in this area.

And this is why celebrations like tonight and the work that Supply Nation is doing and the commitment of corporate Australia is so important.

Because the form of indigenous employment that has the most beneficial impact is the development and growth of indigenous businesses.

Indigenous owned businesses are 100 times more likely to employ indigenous workers than non-indigenous businesses.

But it is more than that.

I can think of no greater statement of individual self- determination than starting one’s own business, generating one’s own wealth and employing other people.

Our vision must be that indigenous people are represented in all sectors of our society and economy at all levels, including business ownership.

So I commend and congratulate Supply Nation for your achievements and to the Award winners tonight.
You have helped secure almost $100 million worth of contracts to indigenous suppliers. Your certified indigenous suppliers represent a cross section of indigenous Australia with
Supply Nation businesses active in every state and territory.
I’m proud to say that Queensland-based Supply Nation Graphic Designers, Galimbaa, designed the branding for the Australia’s most important international event of the year— the G20 Summit in Brisbane.

Among the 255 Supply Nation certified Indigenous suppliers, there is enormous strength, diversity and expertise, with suppliers delivering services from industrial cleaning and design, to human resources, research and consulting.

And Australia’s biggest companies are supporting the growth of the Indigenous business
sector more than ever before.

The Supply Nation / Business Council of Australia (BCA) Memorandum of Understanding signed in February demonstrates corporate Australia’s commitment to doing business with Indigenous suppliers.

Over the past four years there has been a significant increase in the number of Business
Council of Australia members that actively contract with Indigenous businesses.

So many indigenous leaders are stepping up, and many corporate leaders are stepping up. And we want to encourage that and see it continue.

But we as a government can also show leadership in supporting indigenous business.  To help make a shift to an enterprise culture.

In remote communities, land tenure reform is critical for indigenous economic development and business creation. Nowhere on earth has there been strong economic development without good underlying title.

When I worked in Cape York Peninsula as Deputy Director of the Cape York Institute I knew
a man whose fate is symbolic for governments’ lack of action in this area.

He worked hard all his life to develop different businesses, but he could never get title to his land.

And when a fire devastated his property, he was destitute because it had been impossible to insure it.

I remember Noel Pearson started an appeal to raise money for him. But he died soon afterwards, overworked.
Secure land tenure is essential and it is pleasing to see Queensland and the Northern Territory moving in this direction by giving opportunities to traditional owners to grant 99- year leases.

More broadly, however, government can take a stronger role in procurement. The current procurement policies have failed to make any meaningful difference.
Last year, 68,000 Australian Government procurement contracts were reported, valued at just over $39 billion.

Our best estimate, from admittedly poor data, is that only $6 million of that $39 billion went to indigenous businesses. That is, the indigenous business share is only hundredths of a per cent.

In recent years Government has enacted the Commonwealth Procurement Rules Exemption and the Indigenous Opportunities Policy to increase Government dollars flowing to indigenous businesses and boost indigenous employment.

But both policies have had limited success.

Since 2011 the Procurement Exemptions has only been used on a handful of occasions, if at all.

The Indigenous Opportunity Policy requires successful contractors to have a plan for engaging indigenous subcontractors if in areas of a high indigenous population, but there is no follow up to see if it is enacted.

We can do better in this space and the Government is working intensely to improve policies for indigenous employment, including business development.

The final report of the Indigenous Trainings and Jobs Review led by Andrew Forrest is not delivered yet but the fresh perspectives brought by the review process are already stimulating our policy thinking.

I look forward to future policy discussions with you, and working with you, turning policies and intentions into practical outcomes.

Let me finish on a positive note. I started my remarks by mentioning the disappointing employment statistics in the COAG report, but hidden behind the latest disappointing figures there are organisations doing incredible work.  Indigenous businesses that are

thriving, and large companies that have gone from a dozen indigenous employees to hundreds in a very short time.

People in this room represent some of that great work. You show the way that it can be done.

There is so much optimism and pride in this room. I am confident that if we can build on that optimism and work together then we can reverse the poor employment trajectory, grow indigenous businesses and ultimately close the Indigenous employment gap.

Thank you.