Keynote Address – 10th Northern Territory Aboriginal Economic Development Forum

Minister for Indigenous Australians

Address delivered live by video to the Forum, Alice Springs Convention Centre

Good morning. I’m delighted to open day two of the 10th Aboriginal Economic Development Forum.

Before I proceed, I’d like to acknowledge that this forum is being held on Arrernte land. And I’m joining you from Ngunnawal Country and I acknowledge all traditional owners past, present and emerging. I acknowledge the Aboriginal elders and people organising and presenting and attending this forum.

I would also like to thank the Northern Territory Indigenous Business Network as the organisers of this event and acknowledge their efforts in putting on such a comprehensive forum in such difficult times.

I just want to make it clear I strongly support the national vaccination programme and encourage all eligible Indigenous people to become vaccinated as soon as they can. COVID is more dangerous to people with pre-existing health conditions and the virus disproportionately threatens the health of our people. And I commend those working on the pandemic response and vaccination programme, particularly the Aboriginal community controlled health services and their workers.

I also commend those Indigenous businesses and employees based in the NT who have continued to deliver goods and services that meet the needs of our people and their customers in these difficult times.

All levels of government have worked together to help businesses and their employees.

The Commonwealth provided up to $123 million for targeted measures to support Indigenous businesses and communities as they responded to COVID 19, including a $50 million package of support through the IBA.

In the NT, in working with the Northern Territory Land Councils, we released $100 million from the Aboriginal Benefits account for Aboriginal people to create and sustain jobs through the capital injections in shovel-ready economic, social and infrastructure projects. As we look forward to recovery, the Morrison government is committed to implementing policies and programmes to improve the lives of all Indigenous people, especially through economic empowerment.

The Morrison Government’s Budget included significant policy reforms aimed at advancing economic empowerment, including:

  • The Indigenous Skills and Employment Programme, to provide assistance that is tailored and responsive to local needs and labour market conditions.
  • A new remote engagement programme to replace the Community Development Programme. This new programme will be developed in partnership with communities at the community level and will complement the broader new employment services model being rolled out in the second half of 2022 and
  • Extra support to native title prescribed body corporates to build the capacity to effectively engage with potential investors.

These initiatives will be important contributions to Closing the Gap for our people.

I’d like to talk about an exciting initiative I’ve been working on with the broader business community and many of our own Indigenous businesses.

The National Road Map for Indigenous Skills, Jobs and Wealth Creation. The Indigenous population is comparatively younger and will be critical to future labour supply and particularly the many remote and regional economies.

As the Australian economy starts to recover, we need to work with industry to target Indigenous young people to build their skills to meet demand, and increase the supply and diversity of Indigenous businesses.

The National Road Map for Indigenous Skills, Jobs and Wealth Creation has been a vision of mine for some time.

We have made significant progress on it over the last few months, and we’ve just wrapped up a series of industry roundtables in which I gathered both Indigenous and non-Indigenous business leaders to help inform the roadmap.

The Morrison government has a long term commitment to increase economic opportunity for all Indigenous Australians, and the National Road Map will focus on ensuring Indigenous Australians have the opportunity to fully contribute to the economic recovery and future nation building.

The vision for the roadmap is a set of agreed actions spanning the years ahead through which government, business, industry and jurisdictions all work together to generate Indigenous jobs and wealth.

The National Road Map will focus on connecting Indigenous Australians to opportunities in a range of industries, including:

  • The primary sector of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture resources and energy
  • The manufacturing sector linked to our comparative advantages in space defence industries and niche high value activities such as medical products,
  • The service sector, delivering local services such as education, health construction and the management of land water and say.

Now, I’d like to turn attention to the 2021 Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment bill.

At the Barunga Festival earlier this year, I announced reforms to the NT Aboriginal Land Rights Act based on principles developed in partnership with the four land councils, and these have been in train since 2018.

On August 25, I was proud to introduce the enabling legislation into the House of Representatives.

The reforms have been co-designed with the land councils and are aimed at ensuring Aboriginal people have greater control of land management. The centrepiece will be the establishment of a new Aboriginal corporation.

The new corporation has been co-designed with land councils and the ABA Advisory Committee. The process has taken over three and a half years, and the new corporation will be called the NT Aboriginal Investment Corporation.

The Aboriginal Investment Corporation will have a diverse board with a range of cultural, land and financial expertise, including mostly Indigenous representatives.

As well as making beneficial payments. The NT Investment Corporation will have new powers to make strategic investments for the benefit of Indigenous Australians living in the Northern Territory, deliver loans and provide guarantees to Indigenous organisations in the Northern Territory.

The funding, beneficial payments and strategic investment provisions are designed to give the new corporation a broad remit. The National Territory Aboriginal Investment Corporation will develop a strategic investment plan, and the legislation will require the plan to be developed in consultation with Aboriginal people and organisations in the Northern Territory.

The corporation will start with financial strength, receiving an initial $500 million endowment from the ABA and then $60 million per year for the first three years of its operation.

The NT Aboriginal Investment Corporation is expected to initially boost gross regional product in the NT by around $0 million per year, growing to around $484 million by 2029- 2030. The NTAIC Interim Board will be stood up following the passage of the legislation.

To ensure there isn’t a gap in the ABA funding to support worthy initiatives, the National Indigenous Australians agency will continue to accept ABA beneficial grant applications and the ABA Advisory Committee will continue to sit and review applications.

This funding avenue will remain until the corporation is operating. As many of you know, ABS grants have a long history that goes back over 43 years, and I would like to acknowledge the work of the past and present members of the ABA Advisory Committee.

Another highly successful policy for Indigenous business continues to be the Commonwealth Indigenous Procurement Policy, otherwise known as the IPP.

The IPP’s purpose is to stimulate Indigenous entrepreneurship and Indigenous Australians with more opportunities to participate in the economy. Prior to the implementation of the policy, Indigenous enterprises secured limited business from Commonwealth procurement.

The programme has been a resounding success. The IPP has driven up unprecedented levels of government purchasing for Indigenous businesses. The IPP is successful because it’s about a hand up, not a hand out.

The Indigenous businesses are competing for Commonwealth contracts on a value for money basis, and they are winning. Since 2015, the IPP has performed extremely well, generating over $3.5 billion in contracting opportunities for Indigenous businesses nationally.

This is involved over 24,470 contracts awarded to more than 2140 Indigenous businesses. And since 2015, over 415 Northern Territory Indigenous businesses have won more than 4187 contracts, delivering goods and services worth well over $753 million.

I’d like to turn to talk about the replacement of the Community Development Programme. On May 11 this year, I announced the new Remote Engagement Programme to replace the Community Development Programme from 2023.

Between now and 2023, we will work in partnership to co-design and trial a new programme in a number of locations. The trials and co-design will result in a programme that is better matched the needs of remote Indigenous Australians, and I’ve insisted on co-design throughout because remote communities know what they need and what will work and what won’t better than people thousands of kilometres away.

I will shortly announce the sites that will trial the new approaches to help inform the design of the new programme. The sites will be very different from each other to represent the diversity of remote Australia.

There is so much being done to improve the economic outcomes of Indigenous Australians. The new Indigenous skills and employment programme, or ISEP, is another exciting initiative. In the last 10 years, labour markets have fundamentally changed and the government’s employment programmes need to evolve.

Mainstream employment services will have a new model on July one of next year in the 2021-22 budget. We made a commitment to develop a new Indigenous skills and employment programme, either to replace the Vocation Training and Employment Standards, Tailored Assistance Employment Grants and Employment Parity Initiative.

From one July next year, existing programmes will naturally wind down to make way for the new ISEP. ISEP will align with the Commonwealth introduction of the new employment services model to replace Job Active and the upcoming Remote Engagement Programme.

Throughout August and September this year, 53 consultation sessions were held in 32 locations across Australia, attracting 976 stakeholders from Indigenous communities, employment and training providers, State and territory governments as well as industry bodies and employers. These consultations have been very fruitful, and insights gathered will shape the design of the new programme.

ISEP will develop a locally informed approach to supporting Indigenous employment designed to respond to distinct needs, strengths and interests of local Indigenous communities.

It will build on the most successful elements of current programmes, which included tailored and individualised support in the form of mentoring ensuring activities are delivered in a culturally appropriate way and align with the needs of local employers.

ISEP will commence on July one next year, with the annual funding commencing at $42.8million.

A discussion about jobs would be incomplete without talking about the extremely successful Indigenous Rangers programme.

Indigenous Ranger projects were first founded in 2007. Since then, the programme has created more than 2100 full time, part time and casual jobs. Indigenous Ranger projects are built on traditional owner aspirations, combining traditional and contemporary Indigenous knowledge with conservation training to protect and manage land, sea and culture.

The work in Indigenous Fire Management for bushfire mitigation, protecting the threatened species and biosecurity compliance is outstanding.

Ranger organisations regularly develop partnerships with Research, Education, philanthropic and commercial sectors. This enhances outcomes for communities and builds two-way knowledge sharing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Partnerships also support ranger groups to take on fee for service activities, allowing Ranger organisations to expand. This, in turn, creates more employment opportunities for Indigenous communities and opens up training and career pathways for our young people.

It’s truly inspiring watching this programme continue to grow. The Morrison government has committed 746.1 million to extend the existing Ranger programme activities for seven years to 2028, implemented through a targeted grant round.

The seven-year extension provides long term funding, security and support. Through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, the IRP will continue to provide funding for 40 ranger groups, hosted by 19 organisations in the NT.

This additional investment takes the Commonwealth commitment to Rangers to more than $1.4 billion over 15 years to 2028. And I look forward to the continued economic, social and cultural outcomes of this investment and its significant contribution to the protection of our unique natural heritage across the territory and all of Australia.

I’d like to conclude on our long term commitment to Closing the Gap. On August 5th, I announced the Commonwealth Implementation Plan, in working with Pat Turner.

It sets the foundation for the Commonwealth’s efforts in achieving targets, outcomes, and the priority reforms in the National Agreement over the coming decade.

I’m also responsible for coordinating the implementation plan. All Commonwealth Ministers are now absolutely responsible for actions to achieve the targets within their portfolios. The National Indigenous Australians agency is leading on the coordination of the actions.

The Commonwealth’s implementation plan is accompanied by new targeting of investments of more than $1 billion, and that is a significant increase.

To receive a billion to the targets that we’ve set out is substantial, and the Productivity Commission will maintain a live dashboard of data on all targets and indicators at national, state and territory levels.

What’s more important is every state and territory parliament will have to report on the targets in their own jurisdictions to demonstrate what they’re achieving as well.

The Productivity Commission will also publish a data compilation report in July each year, and they’ll undertake a comprehensive review of progress over three years.

In addition, an Indigenous led review will follow the Productivity Commission reviews with a focus on capturing Indigenous Australians lived experiences of implementation of the National Agreement.

The new approach means all parties to the National Agreement is subject to more rigorous and transparent reporting obligations.

The Joint Council on Closing the Gap will continue to have a monitoring role of Parties’ Implementation Plans through updates such as annual reporting cycles. The Implementation Plan will also be updated as necessary alongside the Commonwealth’s annual report.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to address you, and I wish you every success with this event.

I wish I was with you because what I have found staggering is the entrepreneurialship of Indigenous people who take this step of developing their own business. And one day, I hope to see one of you in the Top 200 ASX listing where you play a significant role in shaping. Australia’s economic direction and future.

Each organisation now is contributing to a future that gives our children and our great grandchildren an opportunity to develop long term sustainable wealth, to move away from welfare and to be successful in their own right in any endeavour that they undertake.

To all of you who are striving to create Indigenous economic empowerment, I thank you and commend you for your dedication. Enjoy the forum. Enjoy the friendships. Enjoy the conversations. Thank you.

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