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Report suggests First Nations businesswomen miss out on Indigenous procurement policies

Brendan Foster -

Indigenous procurement policies have been fuelling the massive growth in the First Nations business sector over the last five years, but female entrepreneurs are not getting a piece of the pie, according to a new report.

Supply Nation and Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, Dr Zannie Langford, teamed up to produce a report called The Geographies of Indigenous Business in Australia: An Analysis of Scale, Industry and Remoteness, to examine the First Nations business sector post-Covid-19.

Using data from the Supply Nation, the Office of the Registrar for Indigenous Corporations, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the research highlighted the diversity of Indigenous businesses in Australia and provided insight into the differences between businesses in different industries and locations.

The report found the Indigenous economy has doubled in the last five years and now pours around $10 billion in the nation's coffer each year and employs more than 70,000 workers largely due to the Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP).

Since its inception in July 2015, the IPP has generated $6.9 billion in government spend with Indigenous businesses, with more than 47,500 contracts being awarded to over 3,000 Indigenous businesses.

Dr Langford said while a lot of political commentary has focused on the gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, it was important to also recognise where success has occurred.

"The Indigenous business sector is a striking example of this. Having doubled in size in just five years, it's now worth an estimated $10 billion in annual revenue," she said.

"Much of its growth has been driven by the Indigenous procurement policies of government and private companies, which have provided opportunities for Indigenous entrepreneurs across Australia to build businesses which provide employment opportunities and services in some of Australia's most remote areas."

But while the research found many First Nation businesses were reaping the benefits of government and corporate procurement, female-owned businesses in 2021-22 attracted only 14 per cent of the total contract revenue of Supply Nation businesses, despite owning 28 per cent of all companies registered.

The report found First Nations businesses owned by women weren't benefiting from IPP contracts because they operate in sectors that didn't attract corporate or government procurement.

Dr Langford said that just three organisations - the Commonwealth Department of Defence, Fortescue Metal Group, and Rio Tinto - were responsible for more than half of the total spend with Supply Nation registered businesses, noting that those organisations require services in specific industries, which does not necessarily support the growth of Indigenous businesses in others.

"A strong understanding of the sectors, regions, and entrepreneurs benefiting most from procurement policies is necessary to support Indigenous businesses in a wide range of contexts," she said.

"These findings can inform more targeted policy to support the Indigenous business sector to grow and more effectively provide benefits to all Indigenous Australians."

Supply Nation Chief Executive, Kate Russell, said her organisation was committed to ensuring female-owned businesses received an equitable share of the total contract revenue.

"We know that women face a range of additional complex barriers in the business world, which is why we are focused on providing tailored support to these businesses to help them thrive," she told National Indigenous Times.

"As a woman and a feminist, the intersection of Indigeneity and gender is a particular passion of mine, and I am committed to supporting Indigenous women in business through the work we do at Supply Nation."

The research which offers one of the most detailed analyses of the post-COVID-19 Indigenous businesses sector available, found First Nations businesses employ Indigenous workers at twice the rate of larger businesses.

Indigenous businesses in remote areas employed Aboriginal workers at twice the rate of those in major cities.

Ms Russell said Supply Nation was a big believer in the idea that economic independence is crucial for achieving self-determination.

"We know, both anecdotally and from academic research, that Indigenous businesses are up to 100 times more likely to employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and that for every $1 invested in Indigenous businesses an average of $4.41 of social and economic value is generated – much of which is reinvested into local communities," she said.

"Getting to do what we do at Supply Nation – supporting Indigenous businesses' growth and development in a large range of ways – is a privilege and does leave me feeling inspired every single day, particularly post-referendum."

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