Economic participation

Ensuring the value and sustenance of culture and identity in the market is a critical driver in the pursuit of education and economic aspirations.

- Paul Briggs, CEO Kaiela Institute Incorporated


Aboriginal people, organisations and businesses have long made valuable contributions to Victoria's economy. Aboriginal economic development and participation is vital to growing Victoria's wealth generally and to increasing overall economic productivity and competitive advantage. It is also a key foundation for self-determination.

In spite of this, Aboriginal people remain under-represented in the workforce. Proportionately, there are 74 Aboriginal people for every 100 non-Aboriginal people in the workforce and the rate of unemployment has been slow to change over the last 10 years.

Central to Aboriginal economic development is the engagement of Aboriginal business leaders, community members and stakeholders to maximise Aboriginal potential and talent. The Victorian Aboriginal Economic Board (VAEB) plays a vital role in championing Victorian Aboriginal economic development. As a platform for public-private cooperation, it assists the government, Aboriginal businesses and mainstream companies to translate the shared aspiration of inclusive growth and workforce participation into collective action.

Headline Indicator 6. Increase Aboriginal labour force participation

Target: Halve the gap in employment outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Victorians by 2018.

Aboriginal Victorians continue to be under-represented in the workforce. Data from the 2014­–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) puts the unemployment rate for Aboriginal Victorians at 16%, almost 3 times higher than the Victorian average. Employment rates for Aboriginal Victorians have remained static. Since 2008, the percentage of employed Aboriginal Victorians increased just 3 percentage points, from 49.5% to 52.7%, while the proportion of employed non-Aboriginal Victorians rose 9 percentage points during the same period, to 71.5%.

Aboriginal young people, people living in regional areas and women are particularly vulnerable to underemployment, as national statistics show. Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are about half as likely as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men (18% compared to 38%) to be in full-time employment, and 31.8% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged 15–­24 years are unemployed—the highest rate of unemployment of all age groups and almost twice the rate for non-Indigenous people at 16.7%. Further, just under half of Victoria’s Aboriginal population live in regional areas where there may be fewer employment opportunities. These statistics indicate that building work opportunities for young Aboriginal people, women and Aboriginal people living in regional areas is key to inclusive growth.

Other measure: The proportion of Aboriginal people in various income bands.

Underemployment and lower workforce participation mean Aboriginal Victorians earn less than non-Aboriginal Victorians—around $165 less a week than the Victorian median income and $219 less a week in median household income. Encouragingly, however, the rate of income growth for Aboriginal Victorians in the last 5 years has outstripped income growth for non-Aboriginal Victorians, rising by 23% from 2011 to 2016 compared to 15% for the Victorian median income.

Household income is about more than just how much money people have in the bank. It affects where they live, how worried they feel day to day about making ends meet; and it can impact access to schools, future employment opportunities and feelings of neighbourhood safety. Hence, raising income is central to equalising access to opportunities and services, and supporting personal and collective agency.

National Indigenous full-time/part-time employment status, by sex - 2014-15

Policy directions

Investing in jobs

The Victorian Government funds several training and employment linkage programs to support Aboriginal job seekers. In August 2016, funding of $39.2 million for 38 new employment services through its Jobs Victoria Employment Network (JVEN) were announced. Under the first JVEN funding round, 5 targeted services for Aboriginal job seekers received a total of $5.6 million to support 480 job placements and a further 16 multi-target applications received a total of $17.1 million for programs that included Aboriginal job seekers as a target group.

Skillinvest and Victoria Police have partnered to provide a school-based traineeship program for Aboriginal youth. 32 school-based trainees are currently participating in the program, which aims to boost the number of Aboriginal employees within the Victorian police force as well as provide trainees with the opportunity to gain valuable skills and hands-on work experience while completing a Certificate III in Business Administration.

Metro Tunnel is Victoria's largest major public transport project. To secure a diverse workforce, Metro Tunnel contractors have a number of employment targets including a 2.5% Aboriginal staffing target.


Level Crossing Removal Project is underway across Melbourne, creating jobs and providing skills, qualifications and opportunities for young Aboriginal Victorians. In addition to the 2.5% Aboriginal employment target, classroom training, on-the-job mentoring and ongoing career support will be provided to Aboriginal students to equip them with the skills and qualifications they need to work in the Victorian rail construction.

The Algabonyah Employment Partnerships program is a regional development, employment and training program operating in Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley. In August 2016, the Victorian Government invested $1.4 million over three years to identify and successfully support placement of 75 Aboriginal people in employment. The project has so far registered 49 Aboriginal participants, with 33 successfully placed into work and a further 9 gaining sustainable employment.


Creating culturally safe work places

The thing to understand about procurement policy is that it’s not just about creating Aboriginal businesses. At its heart, it’s about creating jobs. So what is recognised and understood, and it’s mentioned in the Forrest review, is that Aboriginal businesses are 100 times more likely to employ Aboriginal people. The corporates are looking for opportunities to bring Aboriginal businesses into their supply chain; diversity matters and we know that diversity actually adds a lot of value for companies.

- Jason Eades, Aboriginal entrepreneur

NATSISS indicates that in 2014–15, 37% of Aboriginal Victorians had experienced racism at least once in the previous 12 months. Experiences of racism can occur anywhere and workplaces are no exception. Governments, businesses and community partners have a role to play in promoting culturally safe and inclusive work places to stamp out discrimination, lack of opportunity and other drivers of disadvantage.

Greater effort is needed to empower and promote inclusive social and economic growth and ensure Aboriginal Victorians are better represented in decision-making so that policy and investment solutions can be more effective, credible and accountable. This means more than just investing in job programs; it is also about inclusive work environments, harnessing the potential of Aboriginal entrepreneurship and investing in a diverse Aboriginal economy that nurtures the aspirations of young people.

In response, the VAEB has been working with mainstream employers to promote the importance of culturally safe workplaces. Under the Geelong Aboriginal Employment Agreement, 11 employers in the Geelong region signed up to improve employment outcomes for Aboriginal people, including increased career progression opportunities; retention rates; education pathways and organisational awareness of Aboriginal culture such as an Acknowledgement of Country protocol.

Stimulating demand for Aboriginal businesses

Rates of Aboriginal business ownership in Victoria are increasing. In 2006, there were 702 Aboriginal-owned businesses in Victoria. In 2011, that increased ~30% to 902. However, despite recent growth, many Aboriginal businesses remain small and their potential to provide further job opportunities continues to be underdeveloped.

All new businesses experience barriers to entry. However, research suggests Aboriginal businesses face more barriers than most, including procurement practices that disadvantage Aboriginal enterprises and tenured supplier relationships that are difficult to break.

In March 2017, the Victorian Government established a 1% procurement target for Aboriginal businesses to be achieved by 2019/20. This target recognises that procurement spend is one of the strongest levers for ensuring that beneficiaries of government business include Aboriginal Victorians.

A number of activities are underway to promote government procurement from Aboriginal service providers and businesses, including reviewing procurement and funding policies and guidelines and practices.

Examples of Aboriginal business procurement that count towards the 1% target include:

  • PricewaterhouseCoopers Indigenous Consulting (PIC), a majority Aboriginal-owned, led and staffed operation. PIC has provided professional advice and undertaken comprehensive research on behalf of the VAEB to better understand the Victorian Aboriginal business sector.
  • Kalinya Communications, an Aboriginal-owned communications consultancy. Kalinya Communications has provided strategic communications advice, professional editing and supported research into media bias in reporting of family violence.
  • Little Rocket, an Aboriginal-owned communications company that provides branding, web development and communications and social media advice. Little Rocket is currently providing the VAEB with videography services and developing and delivering a detailed communications plan to coincide with National Indigenous Business Month.

Budj Bim

The World Heritage listing will provide significant financial, employment, and social benefits for south west Victorian communities, especially for its Traditional Owners. This will generate increased income for Aboriginal businesses and organisations, increasing our capacity for self-sufficient business models.

- Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation

The tourism potential of Budj Bim is being explored through a three-year, $8 million investment to develop infrastructure at Budj Bim’s key sites. Regional Development Victoria is working with the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation to implement plans for key tourism infrastructure with an estimated potential to attract $13.5 million worth of tourism to the area and provide significant financial, employment and social benefits to the community.


Headline Indicator 7. Increase workforce participation by Aboriginal people in the public sector

Target: Increase employment of Aboriginal people in the Victorian public service to 1% of total employees by 2018.

Between 2015 and 2016, the Victorian Public Service (VPS) grew by 52 Aboriginal staff, ensuring it is on track to meet the target of 1% Aboriginal staff employed in the VPS by 2018.

The 2017 release of Barring Djinang, Victoria’s Aboriginal employment strategy, extended the VPS target from 1% to 2% by 2022. To reach the target, the VPS will need to more than double the current number of Aboriginal staff. This will require further work and innovation to continue to improve not only representation, but also the quality of the workplace and career experiences for Aboriginal staff.

The Victorian Public Sector Commission’s Aboriginal Employment Unit (AEU) delivers three programs to support recruitment and retention of Aboriginal staff, including an undergraduate cadetship program, Aboriginal Pathway to GRADS program, and an Aboriginal Career Development Program.

The AEU is also working on a number of new initiatives and programs designed to enhance career opportunities for Aboriginal public sector employees and jobseekers, to be delivered as part of the implementation of Barring Djinang.

In the important area of child protection, the Department of Health and Human Services has tripled the number of Aboriginal employees since June 2016, increasing the proportion of the workforce from 0.6% to 1.7% through the department's Aboriginal Employment Strategy 2016–2021.

VPS Aboriginal Employee Quota Progress