In the spirit of reconciliation, I pay my respects to the Yirrijandji (Irikandji), the Gimuy-Yidinji (Goomeye Yidinjee), and the Djabugay (Japurkai) people, the traditional owners and custodians of the lands of the Cairns region.
It is a real pleasure to join you here at Tjapukai [Ja-pur-kai]: a place for keeping and celebrating culture, and for sharing it with others—both locals and visitors from around the world.
It is also a fantastic example of Indigenous enterprise and entrepreneurship. Just walking through the front door you can feel the pride and passion of the staff here—nearly two thirds of whom are First Australians.
So it is the perfect place to come together with Indigenous Business Australia—which has played a big part in getting this centre up and running—and the Indigenous Land Corporation, the Healing Foundation, NITV and AIATSIS: I thank all of you for putting this event together, ahead of one of the biggest weeks in our nation’s calendar.
Before I get to NAIDOC Week, can I say what a pleasure it is to see how far Tjapukai has come under your stewardship Eddie. This place is becoming more and more financially sustainable by the day, and it’s down to having this place run by people that really get business and the tourism sector.
For those of you who may not know – Tjapukai performers are world famous and have been included in the Welcome Ceremony for the Sydney Olympic Torch and the bid for the Gold Coast to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018. And of course the Royal Visit here in 2002 was a real highlight.
I know that Tjapukai is one of the largest Indigenous tourism employers with around two-thirds of your workforce being Indigenous. Which is not only great for local communities but is also a real point of product differentiation in a pretty competitive tourism sector up here.
Tjapukai also gives back to the local community. I understand you have injected around $35 million into the local Indigenous community through wages, royalties, and the commissioning and purchasing of authentic art and artifacts.
So well done to all the staff here and well done to you Eddie for setting this place up for the next 30 years.
And being here on the grounds of this fabulous Indigenous business, I would also like to take a moment to talk about our priority of supporting Indigenous businesses and entrepreneurs. Because more Indigenous businesses means more jobs, financial security and opportunities for First Australians.
One of the best ways we are doing this is through the very successful Indigenous Procurement Policy.
In its first 18 months, the IPP exceeded all expectations. More than 700 Indigenous businesses right across Australia won contracts to the tune of $434 million in total. That’s up from $6.2 million in 2012-13.
Indigenous businesses from across the spectrum have been winning contracts: from construction to ICT to recruitment to legal and financial services.
Because it was a runaway success, we moved our target. We had planned to hit 3 per cent by 2020, but now we aim to hit it this year.
And we want to export that success to other areas of Government spending, like big infrastructure projects, for example in the Northern Australia roads investment and the City Deals. Under the very first City Deal, building the Townsville Stadium will include targets of 6.6 per cent for Indigenous jobs and procurement.
All of this means Indigenous businesses can benefit from some of the larger pieces of work the Commonwealth outsources, and First Australians can gain valuable skills and experience and economic benefit in the process.
But I know that Indigenous businesses need support to rapidly grow and grasp these opportunities.
I would like to acknowledge the work IBA has done in this space, in improving Indigenous home ownership and in fostering the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs. Over the last 12 months, IBA has been transitioning the way it supports aspiring entrepreneurs and Indigenous businesses in their infancy, with a range of new capital and support products.
And can I say, to everyone from IBA here, how much I appreciate us working together to make sure we, as in Government as a whole, are delivering a service that meets the contemporary needs of the Indigenous business sector.
As well, we are developing a new approach to supporting Indigenous business through the Indigenous Business Sector Strategy. This is a 10-year approach that puts First Australians in the driving seat to determine what the future for Indigenous businesses looks like. Just this week, we have heard from Indigenous business owners about where they are headed—and it is exciting.
They talked about Indigenous businesses becoming multi-national corporations and Indigenous Australians sitting on the boards of some of Australia’s largest companies. They spoke of kids growing up in remote Australia having Indigenous business role models and becoming entrepreneurs while they are still at school.
Economic empowerment is at the heart of our work with Indigenous communities and leaders. It is the basis of better lives and futures for First Australians, no matter where they live, and it is making links to culture and country even stronger.
Which brings me to the reason we are all here tonight, on the eve of NAIDOC Week: to celebrate Indigenous culture and the resilience and achievement of our First Nations people.
NAIDOC Week has been around for a long time, and every year it resonates more deeply. In the big cities, the regional centres, and way out in remote areas, this week resounds with meaning.
It is a week of pride and celebration for all Australians, but especially for First Australians, as we come together to honour the oldest surviving culture on the planet.
It is a week that highlights history and culture, as well as the lives and achievements of so many outstanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
And it is a week of joy and festivity, marked, like tonight, with art, songs, stories, dances and delicious food: a rich array of talent and tradition.
Every year the national theme of NAIDOC Week brings to light a different aspect of Indigenous life.
This year’s theme, Our Languages Matter, taps into the deep truth that Indigenous languages matter enormously: to the health and strength of communities, to the preservation of culture and memory, to the identity and belonging of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Languages connect people to their history, their country, and their community. They hold the treasures of centuries of connection to country—traditional knowledge, law, medicine, and ethics. They strengthen the ties of kinship and culture that bind people to each other and to their lands and waters.
These languages are precious, all the more so because there are fewer now than there used to be.
We know that when the Europeans came in the late 18th century there were about 250 Indigenous languages.
Today, just under half that number are still spoken. Many of those are at risk—the race is on to save them from being lost.
So it is wonderful to see so many people around the country getting involved in reviving and preserving languages—recording and transcribing them, teaching them to little children. This NAIDOC Week gives us an opportunity to speak up for those efforts and see them grow.
In this year of anniversaries—50 years since the Referendum, 25 since Mabo, 20 since the Bringing Them Home report—NAIDOC Week holds special significance for Australia.
We remember and recognise the extraordinary contribution First Australians have made and continue to make to our nation, and we celebrate the incredibly precious heritage you represent and preserve.
I look forward to being part of the celebrations here in Cairns and beyond.
Thank you, and happy NAIDOC Week.