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Indigenous business leaders call for inclusion to be normalised

The number of WA Indigenous-owned businesses continue to grow but experts say their inclusion should be more than tokenism.

John O’Driscoll, chief executive of Indigenous Emerging Business Forum Aboriginal Corporation, said the box-ticking exercise was still prevalent and called for inclusion to be normalised.

“During National Reconciliation Week, everybody is screaming for Indigenous businesses to show that they are supporting but not a lot of people actually put that same effort in throughout the year, which is disappointing,” Mr O’Driscoll said.

He said, as a result, the growth of Indigenous-owned businesses had stunted, which had a flow-on effect on Aboriginal employment rate.

“We need to get together and strengthen the Indigenous economy as a whole and just support them throughout the year, not just on key tokenistic dates,” Mr O’Driscoll said.

“Aboriginal businesses are ready, capable and willing to work. It’s up to procurement people to not look at Aboriginal businesses as sub-contractors but as prime contractors.”

Mr O’Driscoll said he had seen the phenomenal success of some Aboriginal firms and acknowledged the progress being made to ensure they were on a level playing field.

“We’re seeing our businesses getting more advanced, more educated and climbing towards that tier one status,” he said.

“It’s great to see the larger companies breaking up work packages. That allows Indigenous businesses to take part rather than be disqualified immediately because their bank balance or their ledger book isn’t as large as what is needed for the job.”

Sharna Collard, chief executive of Kooya Fleet Solutions, said she would like to see more transitional and incremental opportunities for Aboriginal-owned businesses.

“I certainly believe that there needs to be some form of due diligence done at the beginning to ensure the Aboriginal business does have the ability to do the work but also giving them the opportunity to win and secure further business within that organisation,” Ms Collard said.

She said corporate and government agencies needed to understand the values Aboriginal businesses could bring to the table.

“There needs to be that genuine intent to want to engage with Aboriginal businesses in a meaningful way because when you look at the value proposition in terms of employment, many of them have their own community investment arm ,” Ms Collard said.

Liza Fraser-Gooda, who co-founded Safespear with Barry McGuire, agreed businesses such as theirs had a lot to give.

“One of the statements we utilise when we’re at the front of a board table engaging with the big companies is ‘don’t judge us by our Aboriginality, judge us by our capability’,” she said.

Ms Fraser-Gooda said there was a lot of hope and prosperity for the future of Aboriginal businesses.

“We’re probably one of the fastest growing economies within Australia,” she said.

“As someone who has been an Aboriginal businesswoman for 23 years, I think there’s no better time to be an Aboriginal business and be part of the supply chain now, it’s a positive time.”

Jarrad Oakley-Nicholls, founder of Oaks Civil Construction, said he had seen larger entities take advantage of smaller Indigenous-owned businesses.

“They saw it as just ticking a box but what I try to play a role on is acting like a sounding board for industry to be able to reach out, have those conversations and ask those questions that they may otherwise be frightened to ask Aboriginal people,” he said.

“I think those organisations that are not genuine about making a positive change for Aboriginal businesses and the Aboriginal communities we work in will get called out.”

The former Richmond and West Coast Eagles player said he was pleased to see the growing recognition of the importance of supporting Aboriginal businesses.

“The more opportunities that Aboriginal businesses get, the more likely that they’ll be able to succeed and have that domino effect throughout our community,” Mr Oakley-Nicholls said.

More than 100 Indigenous-owned companies will showcase their business for some of WA’s biggest corporations and business leaders at the Indigenous Emerging Business Forum on Friday at Crown Perth.

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