Builders incensed over Indigenous rules for govt. jobs


p2309-Ingkerreke-buildersBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Bush work, the bread and butter for many local builders, will be further decimated by initiatives announced by Chief Minister Adam Giles today, which are punitive, unrealistic, and put the future of the construction industry in The Centre at serious risk.
So says a local builder speaking on the condition of not being named.
He says the new Aboriginal Affairs Strategy, that requires 70% of all contracts for civil and construction projects under $5 million in remote Aboriginal communities go to local Aboriginal businesses by next year, will blow the lid off anger in the industry that has been simmering during the implementation of steps leading up to that regime.
“We’ve set a number of ambitious employment targets and policies including doubling public sector Indigenous employment from 1800 to 3600 employees by 2020, and initiating Aboriginal employment requirements for all Government infrastructure contracts above $500,000,” says Mr Giles.
The source says the Chief Minister’s policy is assuming there is an Aboriginal construction industry which in fact doesn’t exist, a skill base that is still largely absent; there will be a blow-out in pay for the few Indigenous people who do have skills and that will in turn escalate what non-Indigenous people will charge.
This is how it works: The government has placed “10% provisional sum” on all construction works over $500,000.
So a job that the Government estimates to be worth $1m will have an extra line in the tender price called “Indigenous Employment Provisional Sum $100,000”.
According to the source, the government’s intention is that the industry will price the job as normal, win the job and then utilise the Provisional Sum (PS) sum as a “bonus”.
All Indigenous labour costs on the job would be refunded to the builder from the PS sum amount, intended by the government to be a bonus for using Indigenous workers.
“But in the cut throat commercial construction market this doesn’t work,” says the source.
“We tried it and lost every job as other firms deducted the PS amounts from their tenders.”
Yet that strategy is leading to catastrophic failures, says the source: “Indigenous workers have a much lower skill level, but to qualify for the PS a quota of Indigenous workers, usually one-third, must be employed.
“The cost of this inflated staff number makes the job a money loser.
“Head contractors are naturally passing a proportionate amount of the risk down to sub-contractors, which is quite upsetting for them, but there is simply no option,” says the source.
There are many other challenges, including legal issues, according to the source:–
• The small pool of skilled Indigenous staff has resulted in massive increases of their demands, leading to exorbitant rates.
• Non-Indigenous staff get offended by being paid less “due to skin colour” and as such rightfully ask for a pay rise.
• Bidding companies compete for valuable Indigenous staff.
• Our core, long term staff often cannot be used because their work needs to be done by Indigenous workers.
• People are identifying as Indigenous and start claiming it to improve job prospects. This is completely predictable given the Government isn’t willing to test these claims.
• Any training not directly associated with the project cannot be claimed, so the Indigenous work force is not getting any more skilled than before.
• Companies are forced to employ on ethnicity not merit.
The source says two of his company’s Indigenous staff did not turn up today: “So they get let go and we have to recruit more.”
He says: “The government requires time sheets, pay slips, spread sheets, information on wages, super and so on.
“This is all strictly confidential information to which the NT Government has zero right to be given.
“Identifying someone’s ethnicity is in the same category as sexuality, religion and so on.
“The policy seems to have multiple inconsistencies with the Information Act,” says the source.
Predictably, Mr Giles has a different take on the scheme.
He says though it “576 Indigenous people have been employed on Government construction contracts since October 2014. Prior to this initiative, there were just 40.”
The source says this pure fabrication: “There have been no surveys about the number of Aboriginal people employed. There would have been hundreds more.
“We don’t ask anyone whether they are Aboriginal.”
Mr Giles says in a media release: “My Government strongly believes that the integral link between economic and cultural success is through local Aboriginal people gaining access to and participating in a local economy, and that’s what our Aboriginal Affairs Strategy is focussed on.”
PHOTO: Ingkerreke workers – archive.


  1. Building rules are being manipulated with this racist measure. Further racism is happening within the NT Public Service as well, with special or one could argue racist measures.
    Merit based selection is removed to employ first by race. This is a policy Robert M from ZW should claim as his own and would applaud. Recently special measures have caused confusion in NT Health. JDs are changed to help Aboriginal people get recruited without merit. Racism is flourishing in the NT and the NTG and NTPS are the biggest culprits. Looking for a story on this topic Erwin.

  2. At what point are the government (of whatever stripe) going to take responsibility for their abject failure in relation to indigenous employment.
    WHY should private enterprise be forced to accept people with criminal records, with NO literacy skills and who can’t turn up to work on time?
    At some point the education department and the department of families need to take responsibility for their failures – it shouldn’t be up to private enterprise to FIX government problems.
    A number of policies are foisted onto taxpayers by public servants who are here for a couple of years and then head off down south, with their resumes puffed up with their dogoodery. Those public servants need to be held to account for the losses that business are experiencing.
    I don’t know of any business who wouldn’t employ an Aboriginal person because they are Aboriginal – they won’t employ them because they don’t have the skills that are needed. It is racism at it’s worst.
    The old adage, that you can lead a horse to water has never been truer than in relation to targeted Indigenous employment programmes.
    And just in case the NTG has forgotten: NO BUSINESS = NO TAX = NO REVENUE FOR THE BLOATED PUBLIC SERVICE.

  3. I would love to see the fine print on this strategy, to see committed funding and programs, timeframes and see who was spoken to.
    I would love to be able to throw the weight of my organisation behind it to see if we can help make it work.
    Alas, it appears to only be a media release at this stage, there’s no sign of it anywhere on the NT Government website.
    Until there is evidence to the contrary, one cannot be blamed for seeing it as more hot air in an election year and yet another false dawn.

  4. Taxes on profits fund measures aimed at increasing Aboriginal employment.
    Ergo measures that hurt companies and reduce their profitability are counter productive in the long term.
    Chief Minister Adam Giles has just destroyed his credibility.

  5. Reading Alice Springs News online, I realise we have a contest: “To work or not to work?”
    In one side we have the “when are the Aborigines going to get off their backside and join the work force?”
    On the other side: “Blackfellows are taking the work of white fellows.” Who will win?

  6. @ Evelyne: This isn’t about Aboriginal people taking the jobs of white people – it is about the NTG mandating the rate at which private enterprise must employ Aboriginal people.
    As I mentioned in my earlier post – I don’t know ANY business in ASP that wouldn’t hire someone because of the colour of their skin.
    Unlike government, private enterprise just can’t afford to have seat warmers or shovel holders standing around and not doing the job, or worse not turning up for work.
    It is up to government to ensure that young people coming out of the schools are job ready – FFS, how many thousands do private enterprise already pay in job ready programmes etc.
    Remember, private enterprise taxes fund ALL of these programmes – only then to have people who are not capable of doing the job.
    The other issue of course is taxpayer funded businesses / not for profits who are eating into the private sector market. Again, it isn’t rocket science, but if you aren’t paying tax at the same rate as private enterprise, then why should you be favoured over those who are paying full tote odds?

  7. Certainly an opportune time for political aspirants (both hailing from the construction industry) Steve Brown and Jamie De Brennie to prove their mettle and indicate to the 1500 odd Alice Springs people employed in this industry where they stand on this policy.
    Interesting times ahead!

  8. Where did he get his numbers from? Have all the building companies been reporting how many indigenous workers they have for a while? Or is this sudden jump a result of them having to start reporting recently?

  9. The Government used to seek some basic information during the tender stage. However, this information was simply part of the much maligned “Local Development” category. As such, there was no real requirement to over bloat the tender response with employees and contractors sensitive information or to identify every single indigenous person in the entire supply chain of the job.
    Since the Governments monetisation of “recognising” as Indigenous it has become a matter of corporate necessity and also an individual’s benefit to “tick the box.”
    As such, any person willing to claim recognising as indigenous is now fervently fed into the system. Of course, the Government in their supreme contempt and electioneering of Indigenous people, have refused to provide any information in regards to how their sensitive information is being used, maintained, distributed or a whole raft of other legal requirements.
    I would challenge the Government to advise how many of the “576” indigenous people have consented to their sensitive information being collected.
    So what we have, statistically, is a bench mark “40” which has no time constraint of data gathering or detail of how long a job existed and is based upon data that was actually never truly collected.
    This is then compared to the new and improved figure of “576”, again with no indication if these are short term, temporary, one off jobs (perhaps even a single day), which is based upon every man and his dog, from every level of the construction supply chain, trying to get a piece of the pie.
    These fabricated numbers should come as no surprise to anyone when you consider the figures this government has previously spilled out such as the 13,000 “spectators” at the Red Centre NATS, the magnificently falling crime figures, our extra police or the massive (unproven) gas reserves that promises to make us all rich.
    Ladies and Gentlemen; bask in all the glory of how the Government shows stewardship of the public purse – disdain, dodgy statistics, politicising Indigenous issues and taking a wrecking ball to a pillar of the Northern Territory’s economy and social fabric.

  10. From a consumer point of view you want well trained efficient tradies doing the work.
    These days you are likely to get a tradie with a couple of Aboriginal apprentices in tow.
    Fine to pay for three workers if they are all working.
    But it’s clear that this is not always the case, the tradie is working the others are looking on.
    This has got nothing to do with race, it’s an issue of costs and employing less than suitable people for a job leads to higher costs for the consumer.

  11. Okay, I finally found a copy of the strategy and the framework. One is eight pages and the other is nine pages. Both will take you less time to read than the instructions for operating a Chinese-made fire cracker (“light the fuse and stand back”).
    Both are the predictable assortments of motherhood statements, spin and things that don’t mean anything but are in pretty colours.
    All the old favourites are in there, like consultation and whole of government approach.
    There are lots of lofty and worthy activities, like getting the average consumption of alcohol by Territorians down from 12.9 litres a year to 11.5 litres a year by 2016.
    Nowhere does it say how they plan to do any of these things, how much it is going to cost or who is going to pay for it. Nowhere does it say who is going to be driving the bus. Nowhere does it outline clear strategy or programs to do anything.
    That this report is a year in the making indicates to me that perhaps the Government is more committed to trying to appeal to the countryman vote than seriously tackling countryman issues.
    For example, there is a four-year target in the report about lifting Indigenous school attendance from 65 per cent to 80 per cent over the next few years. In large areas of the Territory, lifting enrolment to similar figures would probably be a better start.
    I genuinely hope I am wrong but I can’t see it as anything more than yet another extremely costly election-year stunt designed to be forgotten about straight after the election, no matter who is running the show then.

  12. Too bad the government does not treat everyone as equal, and not give money to Aboriginal courses, but get them to get a trade so they can be employed, and not a public liability if tradies employ them.
    Usually the tradie wastes more time showing unskilled workers the job.
    Tradies should not be penalised for their work ethics.


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