Defence recognised for Indigenous procurement leadership

By Stephen Easton

May 17, 2017

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags are hoisted alongside the Australian National Flag, Australian Defence Force Ensign, Australian White Ensign and the Royal Australian Air Force Ensign as requested by Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, following 2015 NAIDOC Week celebrations, in Blamey Square at Russell Offices, Canberra.

The head of the Department of Defence procurement group says a recent award for supporting the Indigenous business sector came from a team effort, and everyone who contributed can be proud.

Defence won a Supplier Diversity Award from Supply Nation, which encourages large organisations to buy from the suppliers it certifies as having either 50% or 51% Indigenous ownership, at the organisation’s recent Connect 17 conference. The gong recognises the department as “government member of the year” on Supply Nation’s list of big buyers.

Kim Gillis, the deputy secretary who leads the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group, gave a nod to all staff involved for “their continued commitment to progressing the Indigenous Procurement Policy” in a short missive yersterday.

He said Defence was recognised for “exceptional commitment, engagement and leadership in supplier diversity and its contribution to significant growth in the Indigenous business sector”.

“This award recognises the tremendous strides Defence has made, and continues to make, towards achieving greater Indigenous participation in our organisation,” Gillis said in the statement.

“Defence has played a key role in supporting the government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy – both through our senior leadership engagement with the program, and as the department with the highest level of Indigenous procurement contracts.”

This financial year, Defence smashed its portfolio target of 70 contracts, awarding 285 contracts to Indigenous businesses worth over $141 million. Overall, $407m worth of contracts went to 708 suppliers via the policy in the past 18 months.

“Whether through direct contracts or as part of the supply chain of some of Australia’s biggest companies, the policy will ensure that Indigenous businesses have the chance to compete and showcase the products they have to offer,” Gillis added.

“As one of Australia’s largest Commonwealth portfolios, not only is Defence exceeding set targets, but more importantly, creating real and sustainable opportunities for Indigenous businesses to grow and provide goods and services to Defence.”

Supply Nation CEO Laura Berry told the conference: “Indigenous businesses are far more likely to employ other Indigenous people – despite Indigenous people only making up 3% of the population. On Supply Nation’s directory, Indigenous Business Direct, Indigenous employment averages 40%.”

Questions have been raised, however, about how much value from the contracts awarded under the policy really flows through to the wider Indigenous population in the form of employment — an effect the minister talked up repeatedly but then backed away from recently — and whether companies are gaming the system through a process described as “black-cladding” by Indigenous affairs commentator Warren Mundine.

A news report in March suggested some public servants are also uncomfortable with the policy, which allows normal procurement processes to be bypassed. The Australian reported a senior official in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet had been accused of awarding contracts to mates under the guise of supporting Indigenous businesses, in a letter from a group of public servants to secretary Martin Parkinson.

Meanwhile, in the academic end of Indigenous affairs, former ACT public servant Craig Ritchie is now the permanent chief executive of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies after a period acting in the role, and less than a year after he joined the organisation as deputy CEO.

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