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Indigenous Procurement Policy review could have profound impact

Zak Kirkup -

Within days the public comment period of one of the most significant government policies will come to a close – and what comes next may have a profound impact on Aboriginal Australia.

The federal Indigenous Procurement Policy or IPP is one of the most important directives that ensures that at least three per cent of all contracts and 1.75 per cent of the value of contracts across the Commonwealth Government go to Aboriginal-owned entities.

Critically, ownership of 'Aboriginal-owned' means at least 50 per cent Indigenous ownership. This definition is now subject to review and public comment which closes on 1 March amidst the backdrop of continual claims of 'black cladding' and faux-ownership where Aboriginal people actually have minimal roles to play in their businesses and are simply part of a concerted effort to exploit the IPP.

There is no doubt that across the country, IPPs of the federal, state and territory governments have had a massive impact on Aboriginal Australia. These policies have created a bedrock of economic activity that ensures that Aboriginal-owned businesses get a go when they otherwise may not have.

This is important because, in my grandfather's day, for example, it was illegal in Western Australia for him to own or operate a business. There are, simply speaking, very few – if any – generational First Nations businesses.

Thus IPPs allow governments to help right the wrongs in a way that helps create what is one of the fastest-growing segments in our country's economy: the Black business.

The review announced by the Albanese Government will mark a critical step in the development and evolution of Aboriginal businesses, particularly if a timeline is announced that will see the definition of Aboriginal ownership move from 50 per cent to a minimum of 51 per cent, making the Aboriginal owner a majority owner.

On one level, to be constantly defined and having to 'prove' one's Aboriginality is a barrier that some people do not want to participate in, with a risk that they are left behind or not considered 'authentic' or 'truly Aboriginal'. At another level, it is only because of the IPP that we're going through this process, with the promise that going through such a process can help build a base that has long been denied.

As an Aboriginal business owner myself, the strengthening in the definition of ownership brings with it real benefits. The Albanese government should be applauded for undertaking what will be an issue with quite a lot of complexities (for example, if a business is owned by an Aboriginal husband and a non-Aboriginal wife: there is a prospect of significant imbalance if the definition changes). However, this does not mean we should not try to improve things for Aboriginal businesses in Australia.

The IPP is one of the most significant policy decisions made by any government – it goes beyond the usual platitudes and symbolism which we see a lot of – and has a very real and tangible economic impact. I encourage you to have your say if you have yet to because the future of black businesses in our country depends on it.

Zak Kirkup, of Yamatji heritage, is a former leader of the WA Liberal Party and is one of the largest employers of Aboriginal people in WA.

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