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Kimberley Indigenous not-for-profit group alleges Black-cladding tactic used in childcare development

Jarred Cross -

A Broome Traditional Owner group alleges they were used for "Black-cladding" in a planned joint-venture to operate a childcare centre in Bilingurr (Broome North) that has fallen through.

Nyamba Buru Yawuru Limited, a not-for-profit development and business group, said Perth-based childcare centre operators TysonJoe Pty Ltd first approached their organisation in July 2022 for a partnership to develop a new centre at DevelopmentWA's site on Shingoro Street, with negotiations beginning shortly after.

TysonJoe currently operates two childcare centres in the state's capital.

In December 2022, WA Minister for Lands John Carey announced TysonJoe as preferred candidates for proponent for the development in a joint-statement with the state's Early Childhood Education and Community Services Minister Sabine Winton.

The statement cited negotiations between the company and NBY.

TysonJoe were successful in their tender.

NBY chief executive Nini Mills told National Indigenous Times that providing adequate childcare services in Broome, in WA's north, is critical, and after first being positioned as majority owners in the joint-venture they have now been "sidelined".

Ms Mills said TysonJoe made contact in November 2023 to inform NBY they would progress with the development alone.

"We recently, last month, received email correspondence stating that they are going to be able to gain finance independently and will be progressing the development independently," she said.

She feels the relationship started to deteriorate following a disconnect over naming the centre, and negotiations began to stall midway through this year.

NBY chief executive Nini Mills said negotiations stalled following discussions over the use of Aboriginal language for the proposed childcare centre. (Image: supplied, Nyamba Buru Yawuru Limited)

Ms Mills said there was "pushback" from TysonJoe after suggesting a Yawuru name for the centre following the Perth-based operator's suggestions using Noongar language (the language of the Indigenous people of WA's south-west).

After giving the benefit of the doubt, she said, there was some "level of acknowledgement and respect and recognition" in the effort, "things quickly started to change" as "red flags" presented.

Ms Mills said while there was never formal binding documentation on the joint-venture "we wouldn't have progressed it at the outset if there wasn't (indications of good faith)".

"The verbal dialogue…was extremely different from the potential partners we were dealing with at the beginning to the end point," she said.

Discussions between the two parties ceased following the update in November.

Ms Mills said investment from NBY in the thousands of dollars has been lost.

"I absolutely believe that we were used in this regard for them to leverage the outcome that they wanted. And when that was achieved, we were completely sidelined," she said.

"I would say it's Black-cladding. In my personal perspective around black cladding, which might be extending on the standard legal terms, I believe that it is.

"I feel that my organisation and our associated reputation was used for non-Indigenous business to derive personal financial benefit. In my mind, the door has been shut."

TysonJoe directors told National Indigenous Times they entered negotiations in good faith, and would be open to future works with NYB.

"TysonJoe were absolutely negotiating with NBY in good faith, while the parties regrettably didn't reach a formal agreement, TysonJoe PTY LTD the operator of Broome North Childcare has expressed to NBY its ongoing willingness to work co-operatively with NBY towards any commercially aligned initiatives," they said.

In a statement, DevelopmentWA chief executive Dean Mudford said the proposed joint-venture "was not a determining factor" in TysonJoe being selected as preferred proponent.

"In order to secure an experienced child care centre operator and developer the site was sold via a Request for Proposal (RFP) process rather than just listing it for sale with a set price," Mr Mudford said.

"The RFP criterion was heavily weighted on price but also on accreditation and experience.

"Tyson Joe's proposed JV with NBY was not a determining factor in their selection as the preferred proponent."

In the weeks following the November correspondence from TysonJoe, NBY contacted the relevant ministers and DevelopmentWA.

"DevelopmentWA have gotten back to us verbally, acknowledging our concerns and committing to developing requirements for their future land releases for proponents to provide an Indigenous Engagement Strategy (similar to the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility)," NBY chief operating officer Taliah Payne told National Indigenous Times.

"We haven't yet had a response from ministers."

On December 14, Shire of Broome council recommended a development application for a childcare centre on the site be approved.

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