A recent roundtable demonstrating the success of the Federal Government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy could be a sign the targets being set are not ambitious enough.

Liberal MP Julian Leeser is the Chair of the Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs, which is currently underway with an inquiry into pathways and participation opportunities for Indigenous Australians in employment and business.

The Committee recently held a roundtable with a range of Federal Government departments on the Indigenous Procurement Policy and Indigenous employment in government departments.

Leeser told NIT the policy has been enthusiastically adopted by departments, with Indigenous procurement now described as “part of the culture” within agencies.

“The Indigenous Procurement Program, in terms of meeting and beating the targets over several years, has been a huge success,” he said.

“Indigenous procurement is now just such a key part of Government is the response that [departments] gave us [during the roundtable].”

The roundtable was attended by the Departments of Health, Defence, Social Services, Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

“The agencies have told us how, not just last year but repeatedly and exponentially, they have beaten their targets. And that’s a great thing.”

Data from September 2020 on the Indigenous Procurement Policy show that every department beat their target, some by up to 10 times.

Across the Commonwealth, a target of 1,750 contracts awarding $194.8 million to Aboriginal businesses was beaten four times over, with the total awarded contracts coming to 9,364 and $853.6 million.

The best performing departments included Prime Minister and Cabinet, which overshot a target of 43 contracts nearly twenty-fold, awarding 904 contracts in total to Aboriginal businesses across the 2019-20 financial year.

Defence awarded the highest dollar value in contracts to Indigenous-owned businesses, with more than $447 million awarded across 252 contracts.

Leeser said concerns around black cladding were also raised during the roundtable.

“One of the questions we had was, to what extent are the businesses that you’re contracting with now new businesses versus joint ventures with old businesses? And people are coming back to us with an answer in relation to that,” Leeser said.

“And we also asked, which I think is a fundamental question, to what extent are people actually looking to see a) whether there is black cladding going on and b) whether there’s adequate skills transfer?

“Departments and agency said that in the first instance they rely on Supply Nation, but one of the things I think we need to wrestle with is … is that good enough?”

Questions still remain about whether the overachievement in procurement targets is a sign that the targets are under-ambitious, and Leeser said that question will form part of the inquiry in future.

But Wonnarua Koori woman and Warrikal chief executive Amanda Healy says a massive overshoot of targets shows there’s room for more ambitious targets, given the strength of the Indigenous sector.

“It shows two things; one, yes [the targets] probably are [too low], but also it just shows the rapid rate of maturity of the whole sector, and our willingness to build and grow and include and develop, and it’s just showing in the numbers,” she said.

“We’ve picked up this business thing pretty quickly, really, considering we’ve been excluded from it from so many bloody years.”

Warrikal itself demonstrates this rapid growth and strength, with the mining maintenance contractor recently securing a $350 million contract with Fortescue Metals Group.

Healy believes there is “a lot more to come” for Aboriginal business, and procurement policies are just the start.

“You’ll see a lot more of it, and hopefully, fingers crossed, a rapid improvement for our people,” she said.

The pathways and participation inquiry’s final report is due on August 31.

By Sarah Smit