Back in 2010, before Supply Nation (SN), before any IPP’s and other Government and corporate initiatives, I was the first Aboriginal woman to start a 100% Aboriginal labour-hire and recruitment company in Australia. Ochre began by servicing the WA Mining Industry, supplying 100% Indigenous workers to our clients. The first and only business of its kind at the time. Since then, we have placed over 3000 Aboriginal people into jobs across many different industries, all without Government assistance. Ochre is still going today and still providing 100% Aboriginal workers to our clients and we continue to be 100% Aboriginal owned.

The number 3000 is not impressive. For me, it’s an underachievement. Considering we have about 10,000 Aboriginal people who have registered themselves with Ochre. I feel personally accountable to every one of those people who want Ochre to get them a job. Therefore, my perspective on the Aboriginal unemployment problem is more personal than most people who work in this space. I don’t focus on this area to collect awards or honorary doctorates. If any of those did come my way, I wouldn’t accept them. I do it because I feel compelled to do it.

I originally started Ochre because I knew I could help my people get into work, which would have many positive roll-on affects. Even though I had never been in the labour-hire game before, I knew I could create change by creating jobs. I had worked for a mining company before Ochre, giving me insight into Aboriginal employment opportunities. At the time, the mining companies couldn’t seem to find the required numbers to fill the jobs. So Ochre was established to give them access to the Aboriginal people they needed.

From the beginning, Ochre has been a purely commercial business, not one propped up by Government funding. I knew I was doing a far better job than most of the Government-funded programs. For the first 18 months after I started Ochre, I was a one-woman show and I did everything myself. In that first 18 months, I had generated $3 million in revenue. For some people, it doesn’t sound like much. Still, when you start a business with nothing but a computer, a vision and two family members prepared to work without pay until the first invoice got paid, it’s a big deal. My story gives context around my thoughts as a self-starting, risk-taker who started an Aboriginal, socially driven, yet commercial business centred around employment over a decade ago. It also demonstrates that I have transferable skills to take into the mainstream business world if I wanted to.

According to the SN directory, there are now 151 ‘Aboriginal’ businesses who appear when searching for ‘labour-hire.’ I have to ask, of those:

How many are 100% owned?

How many are not in partnership with mainstream national labour-hire companies or have a shadow mainstream company behind them?

How many provide 100% Aboriginal candidates to their clients?

How many have Aboriginal people making management decisions, writing tenders, negotiating contracts, understanding Fairwork, Workers Comp, Industrial Relations, award rates, recruitment processes or are actively involved in the business’s day-to-day running?

My guess to these questions is there may only be 5 or 6 out of the 151 that meet all these criteria.

According to several official reports, Aboriginal people have an unemployment rate of around 54%. This figure is debatable. Suppose anyone took a walk through any area in Australia with a high Aboriginal population. It would be evident that hardly any of those people are employed. Then we have CDP, which conveniently hides the number of remote people from the official unemployment numbers. While they are not on Centrelink benefits, they are, in fact, unemployed. Add to that the current Aboriginal prison population, who also are effectively unemployed but not included in the statistics. I would say a more realistic figure would be around 85% national Aboriginal unemployment rate.

What is the actual point of having 151 registered labour-hire and recruitment companies on the SN directory if those businesses cannot fill their contracts with Aboriginal people? The IPP came about in the first place because Aboriginal people are more likely to be employed by Aboriginal-owned companies than any other business? The original intent to implement the IPP was to end the disparity between Aboriginal people and all other Australians by providing employment opportunities. That hasn’t been the case; otherwise, the Closing the Gap unemployment figures over the last five years since the IPP became policy would’ve improved, instead of worsened. IPP is the Indigenous Procurement Policy, a Federal Policy stating that 3% of the Federal budget goes to Aboriginal businesses registered on the SN directory. That policy has equated to almost $3 Billion to date, which was supposed to improve grassroots Aboriginal people’s lives.

I challenge anyone to ask an Aboriginal person walking along the street, catching a bus, or lining up in Centrelink if they know about the IPP. Guaranteed, they won’t have a clue. Now, imagine what they would think if they did know? Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine knowing $3 Billion had gone to a sector commissioned to reach back to help you improve your living standards. However, you and every one of your family members are still living in poverty.

Some Aboriginal business owners have indoctrinated themselves into becoming pure capitalists and voicing their commercial business opinions. They should be allowed the same rights as any other business owner, they say. They don’t have to employ Aboriginal people just because they’re in the Aboriginal business space. Fair enough, I get their point but I’m afraid I have to disagree with it. The main reasons why I can’t accept that view is:

1. Let’s assume you’re a pure capitalist without social conscience or feel any cultural obligation to your people. Why are you not doing business in the mainstream commercial World then?

2. Suppose you are winning work under the IPP because of your Aboriginality. In that case, that automatically comes with cultural obligations due to the fact you wouldn’t have the opportunity if your Aboriginal parents didn’t bring you into the World.

3. I’d say all the current Aboriginal business owners could probably survive pretty well if the IPP or any other procurement policy, for that matter, weren’t there. You know why? The IPP shouldn’t solely benefit a group of intelligent, well presented, ex-corporate, ex-public servants, urbanites, high profile sports stars, lawyers, accountants, and gritty entrepreneurs. We will always be able to survive. The IPP is so that WE, as the SN business owners, could help the Government do what it obviously can’t do and fix some of the Aboriginal unemployment problems.

I know many businesses don’t need to employ additional people, such as a single consultant, a digital media business, a graphic designer or similar. The bare minimum would be to support the community somehow, which a lot of SN business owners already do through sponsorships, volunteering or donations. This article is not referring to those businesses that do have a social conscience about helping their people.

To make matters even worse, outside of the IPP, we have other initiatives designed to get Aboriginal people into work and have been highjacked by the capitalist methodologies. For instance, VTEC, originally the brainchild of Australia’s richest man yet is entirely funded by the Federal Government. There isn’t much information publicly available about VTEC. I have found that approximately $50 million a year is allocated to just over 30 VTEC centres nationally. So far, 7500 Aboriginal people have secured six months’ work as a result. That equates to approximately $20,000 per 6-month job. $20,000 to get a casual position working 15 hours a week at Woolworths for six months is insane in anyone’s eyes. Then add the $1.3 Billion Jobactive annual budget into the mix, who look after most unemployed Aboriginal people across the country and things start to become unbelievable. Let’s also keep in mind that Aboriginal people do not usually run VTEC’s and Jobactives.

The next time you see a homeless Aboriginal person, or if they are intoxicated or are looking lost and dejected, think about the amount of money that Aboriginal person is worth. That person is the very person whom VTECs, Jobactives and the many other programs have received taxpayer’s dollars to help. Yet, none of the money generated by that person has resulted in the quality of their life impacted positively.

In the meantime, Governments and the Corporate World continue to create round tables, conferences, working groups, advisory groups and committees on this topic. The Government wants to find answers to the massive Aboriginal unemployment problem. Whom do they choose to sit at the table with them to take advice? People who have never created a job for a single person, let alone an Aboriginal person.