The Indigenous Procurement Policy, introduced in 2015, is a valuable pathway for promoting Indigenous business development in the industry by mandating annual targets for Indigenous enterprises contracted to the Commonwealth.
However, compliance with the IPP alone is not a satisfactory measure of the quality of the opportunities it affords. For real progress to be made, Defence and industry must think beyond metrics to engage Indigenous people and businesses in more meaningful ways.
For Brendan Dumbrell, a proud Wiradjuri man and the Managing Director of Indigenous and veteran-owned professional services provider JLB-Yaran, there are certainly gaps in the Department’s understanding around how to engage Indigenous businesses.
Dumbrell points to the lack of education around the exemption rules that apply to the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines. Exemption 16, for example, allows Government departments to sole-source to SMEs with at least 50 per cent Indigenous ownership.
“What we’ve found is that not all delegates within government departments, Defence included, understand that the exemption rule exists,” Dumbrell said. “Some of them are more comfortable engaging with those that they’re familiar with.”
This means that in JLB-Yaran’s case, most of their work goes through the Major Service Providers.
“I think that’s a key piece that’s being missed – that we can actually be sole-sourced as an Indigenous business,” Dumbrell said. “We talk about indigenous engagement not being a box-ticking exercise, but instead creating meaningful opportunities for Aboriginal people –that’s how you do it.
“Indigenous businesses are far more likely to employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, so [by being sourced directly] we’re creating that cumulative effect towards the vision of closing the gap economically.”
But for Dumbrell, that employment also needs to be sustainable. This means moving beyond employing Indigenous talent to meet a government requirement and investing in their professional development so that they can develop long-term careers.
“Greater focus needs to be placed on the capability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Dumbrell said. “Sometimes there is a focus on raw numbers and data as opposed to the intent of the policies that exist. For instance, there are many opportunities for Aboriginal people but sometimes they can be at the lower echelon of the organisation, those entry-level roles.”
For JLB-Yaran, professionalising Indigenous talent to lift them into leadership positions is a core focus. The company runs the Indigenous Development and Employment Program (IDEP), designed to mentor Indigenous talent and their employers. This year, they are delivering the IDEP to the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), where ten NIAA Australian Public Service staff are participating in leadership, communication and professionalisation training to better reach their potential.
“We’ve got some very capable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already serving a number of organisations in the country,” Dumbrell said. “We need to focus on ways to provide them with culturally safe environments with which to network among their Indigenous peers, and where they are comfortable to have a voice, and to have a conversation with others about how they can best perform in their workplaces.”
Dumbrell adds that for those government entities that are not sure how to best engage with Indigenous businesses, Supply Nation is a great place to start.
“If an Indigenous company is Supply Nation certified then they’ve gone through a fairly rigorous procedure in order to get that accreditation,” he said. “Therefore, Commonwealth delegates can be confident that they’re dealing with a good and authentic Indigenous business.
“It’s such an exciting time in Defence and defence industry with the amount of work that’s going on and the amount of investment from the Government. There are a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander companies out there who can deliver some great capability. I think this is a great opportunity, probably a once in a generation opportunity, to go a long way towards closing that economic gap. And I think that Defence can be a big part of that story on a macro-scale.”