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Monday, 20 October 2008
Page: 9618

Mr MARLES (8:51 PM) —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, I present the committee’s report, incorporating additional comments, entitled Open for business: developing Indigenous enterprises in Australia, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Order that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr MARLES —It is with great pleasure that I present this report and the recommendations in it, which have been made unanimously. I would like to start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet here tonight. That has been a practice that we have engaged in in all the hearings that we have had in relation to this inquiry.

In all the public policy which has been pursued by the Rudd government in the area of Indigenous affairs, the guiding light has been closing the gap—the 17-year life expectancy gap which exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. That gap is underpinned by a range of other gaps—social and economic—not the least significant of which is between the rates of unemployment. The Indigenous rate of unemployment runs at three times the rate of unemployment of non-Indigenous Australians. And we will never close the gap in relation to life expectancy until we come to terms with this unemployment, which is a key indicator of the economic health of the Indigenous community.

And when we dig a little deeper we find another gap that exists—the rate of self-employment amongst Indigenous Australians who are employed is only one-third of the rate of self-employment amongst non-Indigenous Australians who are employed. If you consider this as a proxy for the relative size of the small business sector in Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, and when you think that small business throughout the economy generally employs more than half of our labour force, it is clear that we have to address the gap in relation to small business if we are going to have an impact on those employment figures. That really has been at the heart of the inquiry that the committee has undertaken in this area.

But ultimately we have come to a rather empowering conclusion, because this is about Indigenous entrepreneurs engaging in enterprises and hiring Indigenous people. It is Indigenous people helping Indigenous people, and the committee have been enormously impressed, with respect to all the Indigenous entrepreneurs we have met, by the determination they have shown not only in running their own businesses but also in the grander social objectives of providing self-sufficiency for their communities, getting Indigenous people off welfare and providing role models for the Indigenous community.

We have also been impressed by the diversity of Indigenous businesses which currently exist. We tend to think of the strengths in the Indigenous business sector being in arts and tourism—and indeed they are—but during the inquiry we met Indigenous entrepreneurs who were engaged in the selling of car sound systems, in building and painting, and in earthwork contracting.

This was a short but intense inquiry where we had hearings in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, Kununurra, Perth and Canberra. We are making 15 recommendations which range from better collection of data around Indigenous enterprises and empowering Indigenous people in the negotiations that they have in relation to Indigenous land use agreements to a better coordination of government programs in this area.

But there are two particular recommendations that I would like to highlight. The committee is recommending the establishment of an Indigenous supplier development council, which will assist Indigenous businesses in getting a better share of private sector procurement. In the United States and Canada such organisations exist, and indeed they came out and we heard from them during the inquiry. They told us that there are 100 corporate members of theirs who would be willing to commit to a similar Indigenous supplier development council in this country. So the committee is recommending that the government provide seed funding for the establishment of such a body, with a review after five years. The second major recommendation that we are making is in the area of public government procurement policy, where we argue there ought to be targets for all government departments on the level of Indigenous procurement. When we are building houses in Indigenous communities it is right that Indigenous businesses should participate in that construction.

I would like to thank all the participants in this inquiry. I would like to thank the deputy chair, Mr Andrew Laming, and I would like to thank all the authors of the submissions that we received. I would like to thank all committee members for their work, including you, Mr Deputy Speaker Kelvin Thomson. I would also like to thank the secretariat for all their work, including, in particular, Pauline Brown, who is expecting her first child in the next week. We wish her all the best.