Driving Indigenous employment

It’s not just about upgrading a road, the PDR project is symbolic of a new development highway, built by the indigenous people of Cape York.

For the first time Indigenous job seekers on Cape York are building the Peninsula Development Road (PDR) driving heavy machinery previously operated by fly-in-fly-out contractors.

Cape York Employment has placed a record 14 clients into work on the PDR in recent months.

General Manger of Cape York Employment, Sonia Minniecon, said these job seekers have had all the qualifications for civil works but never before been given an opportunity to build their hours up.

“These jobs are giving them the opportunity to gain the experience needed to get a job anywhere in Australia,” Ms Minniecon said.

The One Claim Native Title application has ensured that Traditional Owners of the land have a right to negotiate activity on their country. As a result of negotiations Indigenous civil contractors have been enlisted.

“It’s well known that Indigenous business employs more Indigenous people. Several Indigenous businesses have been contracted to build the roads, which is great news for our communities.

“Instead of our guys on stop-go signs they are driving trucks, loaders, doing the heavy lifting,” Ms Minniecon said.

Louican Creek has been placed in a job with Kalan Enterprises, a model Indigenous business grown from a ‘lighthouse’ ranger program nurtured under Cape York Welfare Reform.

“I hadn’t had full time paid work in years. I needed an opportunity to get my hours. “I pick up work here and there but nothing more than a few months. There is a future for me in this PDR because it will always need to be repaired and upgraded.

“Everyone is saying how good it is to see the TOs operating machinery,” Louican said.

Ms Minniecon said 14 jobs in a small community of 230 people can have an incredibly positive impact. “These fellas have young families. That’s 14 families with an income,” she said.

“This shows the significance of good government procurement policy and the empowerment of our people. Indigenous businesses are being contracted and Indigenous people are being employed.”

Thirty-five people have been employed by Indigenous-owned business Kalan Enterprises in just four months, thanks to the PDR road development program and the native title One Claim.

The lodgement of the Claim allowed the Cape York Land Council to negotiate a Priority Agreement with the State for the benefit of the Traditional Owners of the area covered by the PDR.

The principles of that Agreement allow the State to prioritise the employment and training of Indigenous people and award contracts that maximise opportunities for Indigenous businesses and Indigenous participation.

Through the Cultural Works contract, Kalan has employed Traditional Owners – Cultural Heritage Officers, Cultural Monitors and Aboriginal consultants connected to the country where work is being undertaken – to integrate into other contracting teams and work with them between 6am and 6pm.

The Cultural Heritage workers oversee all clearance and land disturbance works to ensure culturally significant places are not disturbed. Highly important cultural objects have been found, and sites discovered that demonstrate ancient land use by Traditional Owners.

These areas are recorded, and if necessary amendments are suggested to proposed clearance sites.

Kalan Operations Manager and Traditional Owner, Dion Creek, said his company was able to win the work because it was a regional Aboriginal company that could demonstrate capacity to engage Traditional Owners along the PDR, manage teams of workers, and provide administrative back-up.

“The PDR has provided a terrific boost for Aboriginal businesses on Cape York, and we have seen records set for the number of Indigenous workers employed in our region,” Mr Creek said.

“This is the Cape York we want to see – Aboriginal people working on country, building businesses, being in worthwhile, paid work, and being happy and healthy.”

Another Kalan endeavour on the PDR is a contract for civil works at Souraya Hill, 30 kilometres north of Coen. Kalan partnered with a civil works company to snare the contract, which involves five civil works field staff providing on-ground support, loading gravel, and carting it to the road site.

“We insisted on sub-contracting the gravel carting to another local Indigenous business owner to help it grow its business,” said Mr Creek.

“We were very pleased to be in a position to help Gavin Bassani, of Peninsula Bulk Haulage.

“The opportunities that the PDR has opened up for local business are fantastic. We thank the State for being so ready to sign the Priority Agreement – it’s meant a lot to the Traditional Owners of this area.”

“We are focusing on a long-term goal of building a business that could take advantage of future opportunities offered by the State in central Cape York.

“As a result of our work on the PDR, other entities have sat up and taken notice of our capabilities.”

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