Indigenous Australians and their businesses play an important role in the defence industry.
The National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week is an opportunity to reflect upon matters relating to the Indigenous and Islander experience.
In relation to my charter for this column, it led to reflection on the increasing involvement of Indigenous people and businesses in the defence industry.
I will admit to feeling that I lack sufficient knowledge on the Indigenous experience in Australia. Australia is my home, it is where I have grown up, and yet I feel there is so much more for me to learn about the heritage and culture that so uniquely belongs to this land. It is a feeling reinforced every time I witness an Indigenous person deliver an informative ‘welcome to country’ address.
Last year, I shared this feeling with Barry McGuire, managing director of Redspear Safety, an Indigenous-owned safety solutions business. I expressed my belief that I was ignorant to the Indigenous experience, and how this reflected poorly on me and the curriculum during my school years.
Mr McGuire told me I was not ignorant. My lack of exposure to this education was not a choice I made. Rather, ignorance was a choice of having the opportunity to be educated but choosing to ignore the lesson.
Just through acknowledging my questions and self-reflection, Mr McGuire sought to absolve me of self-assessed ignorance. It was a profound conversation with lasting impact. It was the first time we met, but we hugged as we said goodbye.
I then sought out Colleen Hayward, who I had seen perform many insightful welcome to country addresses. I was fortunate that Professor Hayward was so giving with her time and her wisdom. Among the many topics we discussed, I asked specific about the challenge Indigenous people must face when considering involvement in Defence.
Our Indigenous population has recent history with invasion, and one could forgive a lack of inclination to stand alongside non-Indigenous Australians in defence of our nation.
Professor Hayward explained to me in great detail the love of the land central to Indigenous culture, and as a result, their willingness to stand with those who will help defend that land. Regardless of the history, we are all people who wish to love and protect this land.
This helped me reconcile the increasing presence of Indigenous-owned businesses in the defence industry. Alongside Redspear are experienced defence industry companies such as Spartan Health, and new entrants such as capability aggregator WA Indigenous Defence Services (WAIDS).
Indigenous companies in other sectors, such as Boodjara Energy, are also seeking to bring their capabilities to the defence market.
Furthermore, Defence and defence industry recruitment efforts exhibit an increased involvement of young people with Indigenous heritage, a wonderful development in the overall efforts to boost recruitment into the sector.
Defence policies are certainly helping to drive this participation. The Defence Reconciliation Action Plan (D-RAP) advocates for greater connectivity between Defence and Australian communities and defines structures for consultation and engagement.
The Australian Defence Contracting (ASDEFCON) template, the primary suite of documents used in Defence procurement, includes provisions for Indigenous businesses and employment. This can include defined plans, and/or metrics on Indigenous employment or Indigenous-owned business involvement in the supply chain.
Some may view this negatively, as affirmative action that is discriminatory. Thankfully, the feedback I receive from the defence industry is not of this view.
It is widely understood that our Indigenous population suffered greatly, and that those injustices need to be corrected. It is easy to talk about justice when no sacrifice is required, but the true challenge is in the willingness to support a just cause when it does require sacrifice.
It is my belief that defence industry understands this. Additionally, it does not view new entrants to the market as a threat. The support of the Australian Defence Force is too important, and the requirements so large, that anyone who can bring capability, professionalism and a willingness to invest in the shared purpose is welcomed. It is one of the many reasons I am proud to be part of this sector.
Industry views the Indigenous policies as a reason to engage, to partner, to bring others forward in supporting our ADF. In doing so we provide opportunities for young people, we correct injustices, and we create an example of a country unified by a defence of the land we love.
• Kristian Constantinides is the general manager of Airflite, and chairperson of AIDN-WA; the opinions expressed are purely his own