Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Australian Indigenous Minority Supplier Council Founding Members Dinner

Location:  Canberra

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I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we are gathering tonight.

And I want to acknowledge the dedication and determination of Michael Macleod and Dug Russell from Messagestick who have worked so hard to make the Council a reality.

As well as the other Indigenous business leaders – people like David Liddiard and Leah Armstrong – and the non-Indigenous corporate leaders like Stephen Roberts who have worked together to make this happen.

Too many to individually name.

Tonight is a great occasion.

And a remarkable achievement.

It recognises the great and mutual benefits that flow when Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians work together in business partnerships.

I saw this last Saturday when I was at Nitmiluk National Park in the Northern Territory to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the hand over of the park to its traditional owners – the Jawoyn people.

Two decades on, the park is generously shared with the world and is the foundation of a thriving, successful business enterprise under the proud stewardship off the Jawoyn people.

Today the Jawoyn Association Aboriginal Corporation generates $1.5 million annually and holds over $3 million in assets.

It provides jobs for local people; its business network extends throughout the Katherine region.

It exemplifies the great contribution Indigenous enterprise can make.

Not only building economic independence for Indigenous Australians but also with the capacity to make a unique contribution to the broader economy.

I think this is a view which would be shared by the founding members of the Australian Indigenous Minority Suppliers here tonight.

The 15 Indigenous members and the 31 Australian corporations.

All of you standing up and embracing an innovative business strategy – to advance Indigenous business by opening doors to previously untapped markets at home and overseas.

Indigenous business people like Gavin Lester and Will Morgan – the owners of the Sydney based building company, Xsite.

Gavin, of course is well known as a former NRL (Rugby League) player and for his role as a mentor for young Indigenous people.

He’s passionate about improving health, education and employment for Indigenous people, particularly in remote communities in Central Australia.

Gavin’s reasons for joining the Council are clear:

“It gives Indigenous businesses a helping hand when it comes to breaking through red tape. It gives us a voice as one group.”

As another founding member, Indigenous businessman and author Neil Willmett says:

“We are experiencing a major transformation of Indigenous entrepreneurship in Australia. The Council is one of the vehicles that will lead change. We will see the creation of wealth for Indigenous people in Australia.”

Neil also makes the very important point that while the Council will support Indigenous business, people are not asking for special treatment – we just want the chance to win contracts.

Your corporate members agree.

Far from being about charity or handouts, the Council is about real business outcomes for both partners.

When I look around the room at the corporate membership it’s like a who’s who of the Australian Stock Exchange.

IBM, Qantas, Citigroup, Wesfarmers, KPMG, Pfizer, Telstra, Goldman Sachs, Rio Tinto, ExxonMobil Australia, Harvey Norman, Virgin Blue, Australia Post, Macquarie Group, Woolworths – and the list goes on.

Of course, corporate Australia is no slouch when it comes to building relationships and working in partnership with Indigenous Australians.

One third of the Business Council of Australia’s membership have Reconciliation Action Plans and through these plans they employ more than 11,000 Indigenous people with a commitment to a further 5000 jobs.

Fairfax Media and the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce recently established a new Indigenous job search engine.

Yesterday, Desert Knowledge Australia launched a new $10 million project, providing practical help to small and medium businesses in the most remote parts of the country.

It’s funded by the Australian Government, the Northern Territory Government, Desert Knowledge Australia, BHP Billiton, Qantas, Telstra and 28 regional partner organisations.

And now corporate Australia is getting behind the Australian version of a minority supplier model that has been so successful in the United States, Canada and the UK.

Harriet Michel, in the US, and Garth Scully in Canada have had remarkable success and have been great personal supporters of the Australian Council.

During Harriet Michel’s 20 years as president of the US Minority Supplier Council, corporate member purchases from minority-owned businesses increased from $10.5 billion to an extraordinary $100 billion.

In Canada, $200 million in procurement was generated for Indigenous owned companies in the first four years.

This is an outstanding result.

Here in Australia this has the potential to deliver enormous benefits for Indigenous Australians including improving the lives of Indigenous people.

We actually have empirical evidence to show the impact employment can have on closing the 17 year life expectancy gap.

The research reveals that employment and education make the largest contribution to the life expectancy gap – together these two factors account for 25 per cent of the gap.

It shows how initiatives such as yours – the Indigenous Minority Supplier Council can be an essential part of a concerted, national effort which harnesses all our resources – government and business – to close the gap.

Congratulations again on your hard work and commitment.

And best wishes for the great contribution I’m certain you will make.