Indigenous Business

Govt committee examines the 'untapped potential' of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses

THE Federal Government's Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (JSCATSIA) has commenced a new inquiry into improving the economic self-determination and opportunities for First Nations Australians.

The committee is interested in learning about opportunities and impediments to training, employment and business development, as well as building the economic and social infrastructure to support economic prosperity in the long term.

Government data shows the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business sector is made up of more than 12,500 businesses, according to First Australians Capital Limited, and is estimated that their revenue is growing significantly faster than the SME sector.

Indigenous Business Australia also noted the rise in First Nations business ownership growing to 4.5 percent in 2021 and narrowing the difference to less than half of the rate of non-First Nations people who run their own businesses.

The University of Melbourne’s Indigenous Business Snapshot Study, which examined data over a 10 year period, highlighted that there has been a 74 percent increase in the number of Indigenous businesses, 115 percent growth in gross income, more than 22,000 jobs created, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses contributed at least $4.88 billion to Australia’s economy.

Committee Chair, Mutthi Mutthi and Wamba Wamba Senator Jana Stewart said, "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses have been exceeding all expectations, but unfortunately, their impacts have gone largely unnoticed by past governments. 

"They are creating significant benefits for First Nations Australians; generating and growing economic prosperity as well as contributing to the wider Australian economy. Blak-owned businesses are at the heart of creating a new generation of business owners who are growing networks, assets and long-term prosperity.

"Access to economic opportunities and participation in financial self-determination for First Nations people have far-reaching benefits. It is fundamentally important that we investigate the opportunities for improved training, employment and business development to support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander industry and create economic, social and cultural benefits."

The committee will also explore the untapped potential of leveraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander intellectual property, the Indigenous Estate and First Nations skills, and also examine the experiences of First Nations communities intergenerationally and around the world in fostering economic independence.

The committee is welcoming submissions from interested individuals and organisations by Friday May 24.

Further information on the inquiry, including the terms of reference and how to contribute, is available on the committee’s website.





First Nations Foundation community event series empowers families with financial wellbeing

AUSTRALIA’s leading Indigenous financial literacy organisation, First Nations Foundation, has launched a new, family-friendly community event series to educate and empower Indigenous Australians to take control of their financial future.

The new initiative, Financial Wellness Week, is a series of outreach and educational events which will travel across Australia to engage with communities, with the first taking place in Redfern and Western Sydney from April 19-21.

Attendees can access a range of free financial services and workshops, as part of a financial wellness hub covering tax, Centrelink support, superannuation and banking issues and more, while also enjoying a free barbecue lunch and other family activities. 

First Nations Foundation, which has previously reconnected Indigenous Australians with more than $24 million in superannuation to date through its award-winning Big Super Day Out events, is focused on bridging the financial literacy gap between Indigenous Australians and the wider population.

Financial Wellness Week takes a holistic approach to providing financial services to the community, acting as a point of contact for First Nations people to access a hub of financial literacy workshops and break-out sessions with selected industry providers and government departments.

A culturally appropriate delivery of financial information is at the pinnacle of First Nations Foundation’s values, according to CEO Phil Usher.

“Culture is at the heart of everything we do, from our online education programs to events like Financial Wellness Week,” Mr Usher said.

“Understanding the Indigenous perception of money and family responsibilities can only be gained through lived experiences. All our training and content is written and delivered by Mob, for Mob,” he said.

“Opportunities like this and previously, Big Super Day Out, have proven to have significant positive impacts on First Nations communities and it’s something we look forward to delivering once again.” 

Improving relationships with banks

Project lead, Melanie Noble said she hoped that events like these would help destigmatise conversations about money and improve the relationships that First Nations people have with their banks and financial institutions.

“It is important for us that First Nations people understand that engaging with their bank, super fund or the tax office can make such a huge difference to their financial situation – we’re hoping for this to happen on the day and that it helps with budgeting which will make family life easier,” Ms Noble said.

“This first event in Sydney is a great opportunity for any prospective industry partners to experience the event and see what our foundation is all about.

“We look forward to partnering with industry leaders and collaborators to make this event series a positive and impactful experience for our First Nations people.”

First Nations Foundation is centred around four strategic focus areas, including education, community, partnership and leadership. The Foundation also offers digital financial literacy training through its My Money Dream program, its youth focused Tomorrow Money website and the Indigenous Women’s Financial Wellness (IWFW) program.

Industry partners for the first Financial Wellness Week in Sydney include the Australian Tax Office, Centrelink, Services Australia, ASIC’s Indigenous Outreach Program, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Community First Bank, AMP, AustralianSuper, Australian Retirement Trust, Rest, Hostplus, CBUS, GambleAware NSW, NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, Revenue NSW, Mob Strong Debt Help, Muru Mittigar, Redfern Legal Centre, Economic Justice Australia, Welfare Rights Centre and Wotton+Kearney. FNF is also broadly supported by Suncorp as a ‘purpose partner’.

First Nations Foundation was formed in 2006 by the First Nations Credit Union, teaching financial skills to Indigenous people.

For more information on Financial Wellness Week or learn more about partnership and collaboration opportunities, visit




A clear view on proposed Indigenous Procurement Policy changes

By Dean Foley >>

A NEW article claims MPs from both sides of the political divide have called for stricter criteria for Indigenous businesses applying for federal contracts.

The report is supposedly backed by Liberal and Labor MPs, calling for more rigorous criteria to be applied to those bidding for government contracts under the Indigenous Procurement Policy, which is administered by the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA).

In this commentary article, we'll explore the recommendations made and key points from Canberra Times' article 'Tighten Indigenous contract checks: report'.

Random audits for businesses that have contracts

The Public Service Commission has recommended random audits for businesses that have contracts under the Indigenous Procurement Policy. This is to help ensure that businesses are meeting their obligations.  

One of the main reasons for this is because there has been a growing concern of people being taken advantage of and others who are not fulfilling their government contracts, or worse, purposely acting in a fraudulent manner and purposedly stealing from their communities.

I recently received a proposal from a non-Indigenous business that wanted Barayamal to apply for a government grant and receive all of the money if successful. It was ridiculous since Barayamal would be the one applying and responsible for the government funding and reporting. However, this ridiculous (real) example is more common than some people would like to think, and there are vulnerable people who get taken advantage of by these 'opportunities'.

However, more red tape is not necessarily better since some government contracts already implement risk management methods like milestone funding to decrease the risk of businesses that don't reach the required targets.

Indigenous businesses are often faced with uncertainty, especially when it comes to government contracts.

Businesses with a proven record should be given more freedom and less red tape so they can innovate quickly and make a bigger difference in our community.  

To build a trustworthy system, we must be able to eliminate those who abuse the system and allow those who care and do good to thrive. - Dean Foley


51 percent Indigenous ownership

This requires that the business owners verify that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people own at least 51 percent of the business by checking the provided Confirmation of Aboriginality documents and share structures registered with ASIC and/or other documentation (such as partnership documents or trust deeds).

In conclusion, this identification only measures actual business ownership instead of where the money generated or profits will go -- it only takes into account who is actually in charge or who has majority 'control'. In theory, the 51 percent Indigenous business could even own 90 percent of the business but the majority of profits will actually go to the non-Indigenous partners.

Because of this 'shallow' tick in the box, this has led to 'Black Cladding' (joint ventures) which are providing opportunistic companies/individuals with an opportunity and an unfair advantage to win government contracts.

This is nothing new, I've heard from numerous sources that countries in Africa have similar issues with non-African/black businesses using shell companies in partnership with locals to win government contracts. One individual was supposedly the 'go-to person' with over 15 businesses (joint ventures).

Instead of ownership and 'control' of the business, I believe Indigenous businesses should be priority measured differently.

Just like charities in Australia are given special treatment because they are helping solve social issues which commercial businesses don't get, Indigenous businesses that operate from an Indigenous entrepreneurship perspective should also receive special treatment based on their community development achievements.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission doesn't cater to Indigenous entrepreneurship, which is why there needs to be a separate entity to certify and manage Indigenous-owned businesses that are operating from an Indigenous entrepreneurship perspective.

Indigenous businesses should receive special treatment akin to charities because they are solving community issues that the government and non-Indigenous businesses (including charities) cannot.


“You've still got to build entrepreneurs, your community, corporations and your nation's initiative in a way that reflects who we are." - Miles Richardson

Dean Foley is the founder of Barayamal, Australia's Indigenous business incubator and accelerator. He served five years in the Royal Australian Air Force before founding Australia’s Indigenous business accelerator, Barayamal – now known as a world leader in Indigenous entrepreneurship. Dean is an action-oriented entrepreneur, former-Microsoft RAP Advisory Board member, CSIRO STEM Award winner, Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) Entrepreneurship Award winner, and proud Kamilaroi Man from Gunnedah, NSW.




Decolonisation of wealth in Australia: another call to action

By Dean Foley >>

WEALTH IN AUSTRALIA was accumulated from the disposition and genocide of First Nations people. It was a long time ago you might think, however, the control of First Nations people is still continuing through the control of wealth in Australia. 

The act of exploitation in Australia is not a history lesson, it's the present. First Nations people are amongst the most disadvantaged in the world and are not being given a fair chance to be 'successful'.

This is because the wealth in our country has been controlled by non-First Nations since colonisation. The inequalities that have been created have been very severe and it will take many generations to remedy them. 

"What if we could use wealth to heal rather than cause further harm? What if funders, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs could help restore the earth? What if money was spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market?" - Jennifer and Peter Buffett. 


Edgar Villaneuva's book, Decolonizing Wealth is insightful and well-researched. It does bring new perspectives to the table, as it speaks of the real, day-to-day struggles of living in a colonised country.

Money is controlled by the coloniser but First Nations people and traditional ways of thinking (community-first approach) can contribute a lot to the development of a better world.

Apart from putting First Nations people in control of their own future, as we enter a world where climate change and global warming is getting worse, these ideas are very crucial and revolutionary at the moment.

The western capitalist model believes wealth and economic activity are the result of markets, ideas, and the 'free market'; i.e. no one controls wealth; however, the reality is more complex. 

The capitalist system of economic development in Australia requires the domination and control of First Nations land and other resources, and the relinquishing of the collective ownership of the land. 

Whilst the destruction of First Nations land and cultures are down to colonialism, the coming into being of the economy is dependent on a divide-and-rule policy which has been at play since the 1800s and has continued, for example, in the various land acts, Native Title and other land grabs.

The coloniser controls the wealth of First Nations people through the government. The government spends large amounts of funding to 'help' First Nations people but much of this money is not distributed fairly and there is little accountability.

"...when state and territory government spending is included, mainstream spending climbs to over 80 percent of the total expenditure on Indigenous people" - James Haughton's, Indigenous budget review

The findings of the report show that First Nations communities are not receiving a fair share of Australia’s wealth. The money is instead going back to governments or their corporate backers, who don't see an improved quality of life as their ultimate goal. 

Thus, First Nations people should be given the responsibility to close the equality gaps and empower themselves.

If our governments and corporations want a better future, they need to come to us and work alongside us to define what a better world looks like. 

There is a lot of work to be done by First Nations people to reclaim our power and nation, however, if we come together and show our determination, our capability and potential, I believe we can collectively shape a better future for ourselves and everyone else in the world. 

This isn’t a fantasy, we have the capability to do this. However, it’s time for everyone to collectively contribute to the good of this world through the development of our communities, nation and the people’s control of the wealth.

We're bringing back the idea of community - instead of a few individuals and families benefiting (Western approach) from the best interests of our communities, we all are.

Dean Foley is the founder of Barayamal, Australia's Indigenous business incubator and accelerator. He served five years in the Royal Australian Air Force before founding Australia’s Indigenous business accelerator, Barayamal – now known as a world leader in Indigenous entrepreneurship. Dean is an action-oriented entrepreneur, former-Microsoft RAP Advisory Board member, CSIRO STEM Award winner, Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) Entrepreneurship Award winner, and proud Kamilaroi Man from Gunnedah, NSW.




Resources sector celebrates being biggest Indigenous employer in Queensland

QUEENSLAND’s resources sector will tonight celebrate being the state’s leading private sector employer of Indigenous people at a gala event in Brisbane.

Queensland Resources Council (QRC) chief executive Ian Macfarlane said it was fitting to hold the council’s Indigenous Awards Celebration during National Reconciliation Week "when resources companies have such good news to share".

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make up almost five percent of Queensland’s resources workforce, which is higher than their level of representation in the state’s population, which is four percent,” Mr Macfarlane said. 

“Direct Indigenous employment in Queensland’s resources sector grew by 24 percent in 2019-20, based on data collected from QRC members across the state.

“Direct Indigenous employment in the Queensland resources sector has in fact increased by 47 percent since 2016-17, which shows resources companies are committed to genuine partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.

“We’re also very proud that almost 14 percent of our sector’s Indigenous employees are apprentices and trainees, which is streets ahead of the proportion of Indigenous apprentices and trainees in the wider Queensland workforce, which is just under 4 percent,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Our sector’s contribution also expands well beyond our own workforces.

“In 2019-20 Queensland’s resources sector spent $69 million dollars with 84 different Indigenous businesses across the state.”

Mr Macfarlane said the QRC’s highly successful Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy (QMEA) was also helping to grow the state's Indigenous skills pipeline.

“The Queensland Government’s Next Step Destination Data shows that of the Indigenous students who went into an apprenticeship or traineeship from QMEA schools, more than a third went into the mining industry," he said.

"This is a great outcome for these young Indigenous people and we look forward to seeing where their careers take them.

“Our industry provides exciting, skilled, and well-paid careers - not just jobs - for Indigenous Queenslanders, which is demonstrated by the outstanding winners of the 2020 Indigenous Awards whom we are honouring tonight, thanks to event partner Rio Tinto.”


Barayamal gets Indigenous tech support from IBM

A NEW PARTNERSHIP with Indigenous charity, Barayamal, has been announced by IBM in an effort to to support and drive Indigenous entrepreneurship in the technology sector. The announcement coincides with the start of National Reconciliation Week.

The partnership will see IBM work with Barayamal to help Indigenous Australians interested in a technology career build their skills and knowledge of the industry, including how artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud technologies are shaping the future for the ICT sector.

IBM's Australia and New Zealand managing director, Katrina Troughton said, “We are proud to partner with Barayamal, a leader in the Indigenous entrepreneurship space, who have launched a unique accelerator program and hackathon for Indigenous people. 

“IBM has worked hard over the past two years to build our foundations in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander reconciliation.  We have engaged IBMers across Australia to not only act, but to listen, learn and find practical ways to create meaningful opportunities with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

"We have much to do in our industry and IBM's intention is to respectfully and positively impact this journey," Ms Troughton said.

“This partnership with Barayamal will help Indigenous Australians to build their ICT and STEM skills for the future. 

"It is an integral part of our vision of long-term, beneficial and reciprocal partnerships with the Traditional Custodians of our land that are culturally appropriate and inclusive,” Ms Troughton said.

IBM will work with Barayamal to help drive technology and innovation skills and outcomes for emerging Australian indigenous entrepreneurs by providing access to leading experts and mentors, and skills sessions to help participants learn about enterprise grade technologies to help solve problems and bring their innovation ideas to market.

Barayamal’s founder and CEO, Dean Foley said, “IBM is a great example of corporate innovation through engagement with grassroots Indigenous entrepreneurship and we are excited for this partnership.

“To kick off the partnership we recently hosted our first joint virtual Demo Day where six indigenous start-ups pitched to 80 attendees, showcasing innovative ideas across a range of sectors including design, printing, energy, health and digital identification.

“At Barayamal, we believe entrepreneurship and technology can change the world for the better. We’re on a mission to close the disparity gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians through rolling out programs, events and providing opportunities to support Indigenous entrepreneurs with the help of IBM,” Mr Foley said.

IBM will provide virtual and face to face ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions where participants can seek technical advice, guidance on their business model and market information to help them better understand the industry.




Indigenous entrepreneurs are ‘more community focused’

By Leon Gettler >>

INDIGENOUS entrepreneurs are different and have faced more challenges than their non-indigenous peers, according to Dean Foley, founder and CEO of Barayamal, Australia's indigenous business accelerator and a world leader in Indigenous entrepreneurship.

Mr Foley said Indigenous entrepreneurs had their own unique perspectives on running a business. Compared with non-Indigenous business owners, they were much more community focused whereas non-Indigenous entrepreneurs were more individualistic and focused on profits at all costs.

“Their highest priority is community and how they operate the business and how they innovate is focused on community benefits, whereas in Australia generally, they focus on making profits for the owner and shareholders – so focusing on the individual benefits instead of the community benefits,” Mr Foley told Talking Business

“There are heaps of Indigenous entrepreneurs where they try to help and give back where they can. Like, we had an Indigenous catering business that would try and help community organisations by giving them discounts.”

Mr Foley said Barayamal had decided early to focus on revenue not only for revenue’s sake, but also the impact it was having on communities.

“Instead of just writing grants and that kind of stuff, we were looking at feedback from the community about some of the challenges, and what we can do and what we can build to have a bigger community impact instead of just trying to have more money,” Mr Foley said.


Dean Foley cited Rio Tinto blowing up the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge heritage site in the Pilbara last year, detonations which ultimately cost the jobs of Rio Tinto's chief executive, corporate affairs boss and the head of iron ore.

“If Rio Tinto was operating from a First Nations Indigenous perspective, that wouldn’t have happened per se because the benefit to the community, the environment, to the people would have been the highest priority,” he said.

Mr Foley said Indigenous entrepreneurs have their own distinctive challenges.

“They’ve been locked out of Australia’s economy for 150 years or so and there’s not much intergenerational wealth,” he said.

“When you look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world, most of them don’t come from average backgrounds. They come from quite wealthy backgrounds.

“Indigenous people generally speaking don’t have that kind of intergenerational wealth, a lot of them come from low socio-economic backgrounds. They’re just trying to survive.”

Mr Foley said access to capital was an issue for most Australian entrepreneurs, but Indigenous entrepreneurs found it even more difficult to get finance.

He cited studies showing Indigenous entrepreneurs faced other challenges where they were seen as “not being good enough”.


Barayamal had interviewed Indigenous entrepreneurs who said they did not have positive experiences with the banks. Even though banks had specialist staff focusing on Indigenous customers, they were found to be not that helpful.

“They don’t come from the average Australian background. They don’t really understand, or appreciate or connect with Indigenous people and Indigenous struggles, so access to finance, even though they have these tokenistic gestures, there’s nothing really happening there,” he said.

Mr Foley said Barayamal had reached out to venture capital (VC) funds, but got little support from the VCs. Also, most of the government funding for ‘closing the gap’ was going to non-Indigenous organisations.

“You see these big corporates and they’re always promoting corporate social responsibility in the Indigenous space, but you look behind the scenes, and they’re getting money from the government,” he said.

“The corporates got $90 million for Indigenous employment. These are publically listed companies that are making millions in profit and they can’t find the money to employ Indigenous people. They have to get it off the government.”

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at



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