Australian Indigenous procurement strategy delivers

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and Australian flags flown outside Parliament House in Canberra. Photo by: Nick D / CC BY-SA

CANBERRA — The Pacific Labour Facility is a new addition to Australia’s aid program, providing support to Pacific workers in Australia as well as to Australian employers seeking seasonal workers.

The facility supports the administration of the Pacific Labour Scheme and provides targeted support for the Seasonal Worker Programme. And it expands upon a successful pilot program in Northern Australia, the Pacific Microstates-Northern Australia Worker Pilot Program managed by Palladium for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The facility commenced in October, and the next 12 months will see the contracted suppliers doing the groundwork to ensure employees and employers — both in the Pacific and in Australia — are supported.

Working with DFAT's new Indigenous policy

New procurement rules from the DFAT require tenderers for large value Australian aid contracts to describe how they will support Indigenous participation, entrepreneurship, and business development within the country's aid program.

Though there is still a lot to do before PLF takes off, it is already achieving an important milestone for the Australian aid program. Through a partnership between Palladium and Australian Indigenous-owned and operated i2i, the facility is the first major Australian aid contract awarded to an Indigenous business, following the introduction of new procurement rules.

Highlighting a new path in procurement for DFAT

The past two years have seen DFAT opening the door to better supplier engagement through its Aid Supplier Conference. At the conference in February this year, DFAT announced changes to it procurement processes to better support the Indigenous Procurement Policy. As of July, requests for tender templates require Australian aid contracts in excess of 3 million Australian dollars to facilitate greater participation of Indigenous people and stimulate Indigenous entrepreneurship and business development.

The announcement of Palladium and i2i contracted to provide PLF services was an early achievement for the procurement process, which DFAT has been keen to highlight to show its commitment to the growth and development of Indigenous Australian businesses: “We are pleased to see that Indigenous companies are now being included in bids for large, complex contracts and there have already been successes,” a spokesperson for DFAT told Devex.

“This is not a case of tokenism or forcing outcomes to attain quotas, it is about bids that can genuinely offer something different. DFAT is looking for creative and innovative solutions to complex development challenges in the region and we believe that Indigenous involvement is potentially an untapped resource.”

“We see great potential for Indigenous participation in the Australian aid program, not just as part of DFAT’s approach to the IPP, but more importantly, as a key piece of the puzzle in delivering the best development outcomes,” the DFAT spokesperson said.

Forming the partnership

The procurement changes are an important avenue to enable Indigenous businesses to play a larger role in the aid program. But effective partnerships are also key. Prior to bidding for this contract, both Palladium and i2i worked together for the pilot program.

“As we developed a better sense of the full breadth of capabilities that i2i offered, the relationship rapidly grew into the much deeper partnership we have entered into for PLF,” Lewis Brimblecombe, manager of economic growth at Palladium, explained to Devex.

Within Palladium, a corporate diversity and inclusion strategy was a driver of the relationship.

“We celebrate ... the value and strengths that Indigenous people bring to Palladium as employees, suppliers, and clients, and continually seek out opportunities to improve this,” said Brimblecombe. “A partnership with i2i for PLF offered exactly that sort of opportunity and so we were keen to find ways to deliver this proposal to DFAT.”

For Daijah Martens, PLF project coordinator at i2i, in delivering the program, shared values and the Indigenous to indigenous approach were crucial.

The delivery of PLF is different. Palladium will be aiming to use the brokered partnerships approach used in the delivery of programs such as the Business Partnership Platform — a model of partnership that builds meaningful relationships and supports rapid and effective problem solving, and a deepened spirit of collaboration between stakeholders.

The value of an Indigenous partner

The importance of i2i in PLF, Martens believed, is in providing employment support to disadvantaged groups — to find permanent work and remain there — and is critical to the success of seasonal workers in Australia, as an agent for the Indigenous-owned Australian Training Works.

i2i in particular, Martens explained, brings a strong understanding of employment challenges disadvantaged groups face.

“We have the experience in using this approach for Indigenous Australian[s] in particular who may not have all of the tools to make them work ready, that will be a big benefit. And we already have a network of providers in Australia that we can tap into for support.”

“This is recognition of the growing stream of indigenous professionals, and it is important in helping to challenge stereotypes of what can be achieved.”

— Daijah Martens, PLF project coordinator, i2i

Educating employers and providing a bridge for knowledge and conversation is an important part of this approach.

“i2i bring serious skills and networks to the table,” Brimblecombe said. “We are going to be working with PLF on pre-employment training, labor hire, and enterprise and reintegration support services, as well as providing ongoing advisory support to the program on how to integrate Indigenous approaches. i2i is already doing all these things in Australia and in Papua New Guinea.”

Showing that the aid program is an area for opportunities

Martens explained to Devex that while the delivery of PLF services is key to the partnership, it is an important learning opportunity for i2i — to find out what is involved in managing large-scale aid programs, including the reporting requirements and managing expectations.

“We’re getting the job done, but we’re also building capacity within our own network to learn from the running of the PLF,” Martens said.

Within Australia and throughout the world, indigenous-owned and operated businesses are providing services to support development outcomes.

“This is recognition of the growing stream of indigenous professionals,” Martens said. “And it is important in helping to challenge stereotypes of what can be achieved.”

It is not just providing business opportunities — but showing indigenous youth the diverse career paths available to them. And the communities globally that can benefit from them.

“This is a very important opportunity for Indigenous business — in Australia and across the globe. And we’re very proud to be part of that.”

About the author

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    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.