Closing The Gap: Future Of Defence And Indigenous Employment

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“AIDN-WA congratulates Serge DeSilva-Ranasinghe for leading the discussion on the important work of including Australia’s Indigenous people in the country’s defence – both by way of membership of the ADF and through engagement with the defence industry sector.”
– Paul Roberts, President, AIDN-WA

When he retired from AFL football, Adam Goodes applied himself to a new life challenge: empowering the next generation of Indigenous role models to achieve economic independence.  He co-founded the Indigenous Defence Consortium (IDC) and now works with State and Commonwealth governments and industry to maximise the engagement of Indigenous owned companies.

“We’re not asking for a handout, but a hand-up” he explained during his presentation at a Closing the Gap seminar at the Crown complex in Perth in August. “Consideration”, he said, “should be given to sole sourcing contracts with Indigenous businesses, or at least, to making pre qualification easier to achieve”.  He appealed to industry to reach out to Indigenous businesses, to network with them, and not to make decisions purely on the lowest price.

Supply Nation assists this cause by offering free registration of businesses with more than Indigenous ownership, enabling them to gain access to markets, partnerships and contracts through its network of corporate, government and not-for-profit members. The IDC adds an extra layer of assistance to assist Indigenous firms in gaining business in the defence space.

Brigadier Mark Brewer, responsible for Indigenous development in the Australian Army, pointed out that Indigenous people served in  the Great War of 1914-18 but were not at the time recognised as citizens.  Their status has changed and today the Army specifically seeks to recruit and develop Indigenous persons. It has set the goal of a five participation rate and expects soon to pass the three mark.

In terms of the success of Indigenous recruits, Brigadier Brewer commented that the rate is slightly higher than the general rate, an achievement of which the Army is proud, considering the program has been in place only since 2011. He said that of 366 Indigenous persons recruited last financial year, 16 were at officer level.

Closing the Gap was the second event organised by recently established defence communications and events platform, WA DEFENCE REVIEW, whose CEO, Serge DeSilva-Ranasinghe, remarked that  “This industry (defence) can do more to engage with Indigenous businesses…10 to 20 years from now we may well have an Indigenous Chief of Army.”

Chairperson on the day, Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, former Chief of Army, noted that Closing the Gap was another example of  “WA leading the policy debate at a National level.” He said it was the stuff of which nation building is made.

The Event was made possible by the close cooperation of the American Chamber of Commerce with WA DEFENCE REVIEW and the generous support of numerous sponsors, such as Thuroona Services, RDA – Perth, ATSIVSA, Wirrpanda Foundation, Edith Cowan University, RDA – Kimberley and City of Swan.

Several Indigenous businesses displayed their banners at the event including Thuroona Services, a company operating in the demolition, hazardous materials removal and project management space.  Thuroona’s Sam Jackson said that of their business was with Defence projects.

Other Indigenous businesses present included Maramara, a Pilbara-based civil construction company; Indiya Geospatial,  Australia’s only Supply nation certified surveying company; and Pindari, another Pilbara based company specialising in electrical contracting, building maintenance, non-process infrastructure and HVAC.

Such enterprises provide functioning examples that Adam Goodes call for Indigenous enterprises to be offered a hand-up, rather than a hand-out, has merit.

Please click here to view the Event Highlights video.

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About Terry Booth

Terry Booth is a Special Correspondent with WA DEFENCE REVIEW. He served in the WA public service advising on industry development, contracting with Defence and defence suppliers to supply training, and managing the former Defence Industry Skills Unit. He completed the Defence and Industry Study Course (DISC), and until recently was a board member of the WA chapter of the Defence Reserves Support Council, and also a member of AIDN-WA’s executive board for over 20 years where he was granted a life membership in recognition of his tireless service and commitment.

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