The Door is Wide Open for Indigenous Businesses to Step Up
The construction of a Bunnings warehouse by Indigenous building services company, Marawar, has demonstrated the Indigenous sector’s capacity to deliver on large-scale projects and claim billions of dollars in Government procurement targets.
The first official engagement of an Indigenous building services company by Bunnings at M/Group’s Chester Pass Mall in Albany, has set the pace for Indigenous industries to break down restrictive misconceptions about the Aboriginal workforce and take claim of billions in misallocated government funds that have been earmarked to stimulate Indigenous economic development.
Perth-based company, Marawar, in conjunction with M/Construction, was engaged by Bunnings to build a new warehouse in Albany, WA. Marawar is led by Aboriginal people, has a 50% Aboriginal workforce and supports largely local Indigenous supply channels.
The company was established in 2018 on the back of an identified need for a strong and resilient Indigenous presence in the construction sector, together with Government and private sector initiatives to encourage Indigenous economic activity.
Included in these initiatives is the Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP), put in place to leverage the Commonwealth and State’s annual multi-billion procurement spend to drive demand for Indigenous goods and services and grow the Indigenous business sector.
Nyoongar Traditional Owner and Director of Marawar, Mr Gerry Matera, said despite the best of intentions, many of the initiatives have fallen flat largely due to Australia’s perception of the indigenous workforce and the availability of strong Indigenous businesses to take on large projects.
“There is a significant underlying issue in that non-Indigenous people think that Aboriginal people are not employable. This kind of misconception is hugely damaging and means that procurement dollars are not reaching their targets. As a business, we set out to not merely change attitudes, but change lives by transforming the construction industry and, in turn, the prospects and potential of Aboriginal people and communities. We now want to encourage other indigenous businesses around Australia to step up and make the most of the current opportunities.”
The construction of Bunnings and other large-scale projects undertaken by Marawar in Perth has been instrumental in demonstrating how effective and reliable the Aboriginal workforce can be.
The company has successfully evolved in an environment where there is a growing adoption of Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) in the business community and a genuine desire from Government to encourage increased engagement with Aboriginal businesses.
Mr Matera said it is a great time for Aboriginal companies to build capacity throughout the business sector and create workplace environments that will enable their workforce to shine.
“In our team, we have a 21 year-old first year apprentice painter who had never had a job but went on a plethora of pre-employment courses. She is an amazing asset. There is also a 22 year-old worker who travels two and a half hours a day and has never missed a day and never been late,” he continued.
“These young aboriginal people are exceptional workers who just needed the right environment to feel safe and a sense of belonging. Aboriginal people want to work with aboriginal organisations and feel like they are not going to be marginalised. We have developed programs to address the unique cultural needs of our staff and I believe the outcomes will have a ripple effect across the whole community.
“One of the key issues we struggled with in the early days was convincing people that we did have the capability and can take on responsibilities. We did a lot of small jobs with low return to build up our client base.
“With the construction of Bunnings under our belt, we believe we are clearly demonstrating how much can be achieved. We have always remained true to our vision and it is great that the business community is now starting to embrace us as an effective means to meet their social responsibility and procurement targets.
“The stage is set for other businesses to do the same.”
Marawar currently works across commercial, retail and government sectors and has been engaged by organisations such as Officeworks, K-Mart, CBRE Australia, Health Support Services, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, BMW Project Management, Perth Zoo and the Department of Communities.
Marawar is a registered Supply Nation business and Mr Matera is open to discussions with companies that have committed to a RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan) and are seeking to increase their procurement spend with Indigenous led businesses, as well as other Aboriginal businesses who would like more information about the Marawar journey.