The economic horse pulls the social cart – and it's time to get on board

Cannings Purple 1 Jun 2018
3 mins

WA has a new Aboriginal Procurement Policy designed to encourage businesses to work with Aboriginal enterprises. As stakeholder engagement specialist Charlie Wilson-Clark writes, it’s time to get serious.

Late in 2017, WA State Treasurer Ben Wyatt shepherded through a shake up to government contracting with a social dimension which sits close to his heart.

Taking his lead from the Commonwealth, who introduced Aboriginal content targets for government contracts in 2015, all WA Government Departments will be required to award at least one percent of new goods and services spend to registered Aboriginal businesses from 1 July this year.

The WA Aboriginal Procurement Policy aims to develop entrepreneurship and business opportunities for Aboriginal businesses. Targets will progressively increase to a required three per cent by 2020-2021.

While the policy can only apply to the spending of government funds, there is much to be considered, and potentially gained, by those in private business – whether pursuing government contracts or not.

At the basic level, departments will be looking for ways to fulfil their targets so as not to fall behind their public service colleagues. Tender submissions with a focus on Aboriginal content and/or demonstrated experience subcontracting Aboriginal businesses, or proposing a joint venture with a registered Aboriginal business, are bound to earn the tenderer favourable attention from assessment teams.

So how do corporates with no prior experience start to generate the networks to begin working with Aboriginal businesses?

There are a range of online tools for finding a registered Aboriginal business. The Aboriginal Business Directory WA and Supply Nation provide search functions for matching a business with your requirement. You can search according to the services you need, the location or by business name.

Mr Wyatt launched a Government-hosted Aboriginal Business Expo in March, as an opportunity for organisations to survey the wares of local Aboriginal businesses and meet some of the people behind them.

For any business relationship to really work, you need to initiate and foster a productive relationship. This can only be done through face-to-face contact, discussion of opportunities and then testing the relationship with a real project. Just like any other form of partnership.

In the South-West of WA, Noongar business leaders have come together to form a Noongar Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Chamber has launched a membership drive and hopes to support and foster Noongar businesses by providing a link to the corporate world.

The NCCI recognises the social dividend corporates can attract from investors and communities by improving their reportable performance when it comes to Aboriginal content.

And at the national level more than 950 organisations, including government, not for profit and corporate, are now using a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), to set their own targets around cultural awareness, community contributions, Aboriginal employment and partnerships. Reconciliation Australia, who oversee the RAP program, have shown that organisations with a RAP are changing the social dynamic in their workplaces with a more engaged and culturally aware workforce just one of the reported benefits.

When announcing the procurement policy, Mr Wyatt talked of “improving the economic prosperity of those involved in Aboriginal business [and] the broader Aboriginal community as a whole.”

NCCI Chair Gordon Cole believes the benefits go far beyond the Aboriginal community or even the internal culture of organisations.

“The economic horse pulls the social cart,” he says.

“Active participation in the real commercial world is the only way to improve outcomes for Aboriginal Australians. But a strong commitment to this, and genuine support of Aboriginal businesses, will also improve the diversity, solutions and innovations that are put forward by Australian businesses.

“We need to embrace what Aboriginal businesses can offer as uniquely Australian and highly marketable here and overseas.  Once we are all on board with that, the benefits will be there for everyone.  

“No longer will we be seen as beneficiaries of the economy, but contributors to the economy.”

Charlie Wilson-Clark is an Associate Director with Cannings Purple and a community and stakeholder engagement specialist, with more than 20 years’ experience and a passion for Indigenous affairs. Contact Charlie.