Marcia Langton talks about A Billion Opportunities

Marcia Langton AM is one of Australia's leading Aboriginal scholars and Chairperson GUMA ICRG JV Pty Ltd

Can you talk about the role mining companies play in developing local business?

Mining companies outsource most of their work, or a great deal of their work. And they do it in a variety of ways. It’s been very difficult for Aboriginal businesses to get into the mining industry.

Some mining companies have taken the view that because of the Native Title Agreements that they have with local people in order to get land access that they need to invest in local Aboriginal businesses. One Billion Opportunities, that Fortescue has now successfully achieved its goals, was a real break through for Aboriginal companies because Fortescue took the view that small companies and medium-sized Aboriginal companies should be given an opportunity and those opportunities were given to Aboriginal companies to have the tender where in the past it’s been very difficult to do that.

The point about A Billion Opportunities; it was a direct pathway created by the company for medium and small sized Aboriginal companies to go into projects after they have already been tendered out, which means a great deal to a Native Title Group, a family, that they can get the road construction or road maintenance contract. That’s where the Aboriginal businesses started and of course now many of them are getting much bigger contracts and we here at Guma ICRG are working our way up the tendering system.

Can you describe the impact this investment will have for future generations?

The best way for people to create wealth is to set up a business that markets something people want. And if one can do so successfully you have a much greater chance of creating and increasing wealth then just simply working in a job. Say you are a salaried employee, your wages might increase according to the CPI index each year but you will never become fabulously wealthy. Wealth creation happens when people take risks, and go into the market place with a business proposition and if they’re successful they can do very well.

For Native Title groups the best chance of creating a future, an economic future, for their people is to create businesses. Now that means taking risks. There’s nothing to stop an Aboriginal person from going out and getting a loan and buying a water truck and getting a water business contract. When the Aboriginal person is able to get a contact it opens up more opportunities for people. When Aboriginal people are able to participate in the economy in the same way other Australians do, then their future generations can be guaranteed a reasonable standard of living.

Can you talk a little about if you think this approach for business is innovative and do you think it will change Aboriginal business permanently?
It’s true that many companies have tried to do business with Aboriginal companies and there are some very successful Aboriginal companies, but I think what we see here is a very systematic approach. It is a very good model and it is based on the principle that as Fortescue does well so to do their business partners. Our company does business with FMG. We’ve successfully tendered for projects and it’s a great relationship because it’s based on the very good principle of taking the Aboriginal community along with FMG as it creates wealth.

Outside of that can you talk a little about how this approach can be adopted Australia wide?

I’d like to see A Billion Opportunities adopted Australia wide, I think FMG’s come up with a great model. What this model does is set out the good business principles that other corporations can adopt in their business relationships with Indigenous communities. And it’s not just about employing people - although that is a very worthwhile goal - it also about making sure that Aboriginal businesses are treated on merit but also at the same time making sure they’re not marginalised by the very onerous and necessarily onerous processes that are involved in tendering.