Garma Key Forum Opening Remarks by Jennifer Westacott

Business Council Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott gave opening remarks at the Garma 2016 Key Forum on Corporate Australia and Indigenous Economic Development on 30 July 2016. 

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Thanks Marcia Langton for your introduction.

I’d like to acknowledge country and the Yolngu People. This is the first time I have visited your land.

It’s a privilege to see firsthand your continued, strong and your resilient culture.

My name is Jennifer Westacott. I am the Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia.

The Council is the policy and advocacy body which represents 130 of Australia’s largest companies and Australia’s largest employers.

I grew up on the Central Coast of NSW and now live in Sydney.

I’d like to introduce the panel:

Peter Nash – Chairman, KPMG

Mark Smith – Group Executive, Perpetual Private

David Lindberg – Chief Executive, Westpac Business Bank

The purpose of this panel is to:  

  • Discuss the role of business in indigenous economic development and all that should go with that
  • To discuss what we’ve learnt
  • To set out what can be done better and
  • And to talk about how we can share learnings with other sectors.

There are two things to start with in this discussion:

The first – business has not always been on the right side of the land rights debate.

As Galarrwuy Yunipingu said this morning we still aren’t always.

The second point is that land rights have not yet translated into economic power for Indigenous peoples.

Because of this ,we must accept Galarrwuy’s gracious invitation for the business community and Indigenous peoples to sit down and make sure that land rights produce real economic power, and in turn realise a stronger nation overall.

Economic activity

My starting point this afternoon is that if done properly, economic activity, by that I mean, jobs, investment and wealth creation, are the essential elements for social progress.

Why? Because:

  • Economic activity creates freedom
  • It gives people and communities choices
  • It provides a capacity to invest in improving living standards


  • I would argue, is central to the creation, the restoration and the preservation of dignity
  • for individuals and families,
  • for communities,
  • and for nations.

Business role

I believe business is essential to achieve this. I don’t just believe it, I know it.

The people here who work every day to promote economic development to try and get someone a job, know it.

Business should be the natural ally in overcoming some of the issues we’ve discussed today.


  • They take risks
  • They don’t think about programs, they think about results
  • They think long term – not in five year program timeframes
  • They know the failure to invest in the potential of people will lead to a failure of the business.

The role of business

But if we are to get this right let’s be clear about what business is and isn’t.

Businesses, large, small, indigenous or corporate can only survive if

  • They make profits over the long term
  • They can adjust to competition and change
  • They return money to investors who have put their own money at risk.

But to have enduring success we need to create real shared value.

What do I mean? Well, things that create value for the business while at the same time having real, positive and measurable benefits to communities, to society and, to the environment.

This is not corporate social responsibility,

It’s not philanthropy

It’s not charity

It’s core business.

Doing better

There is a great deal we can do better:

  • We can deepen employment opportunities by generating more long term jobs and finding different pathways into emerging sectors such as the services sector
  • We should deepen supplier relationships. Business Council members this morning met and talked about the potential of setting stronger targets for Indigenous supplier relationships
  • We can create other businesses
  • We can respectfully and carefully partner in advocacy in areas such as education and Constitutional recognition
  • We should build capability and skills in people and in communities
  • We can work together to unleash the digital economy
  • It has enormous potential
  • It’s blind to remoteness
  • It’s blind to history
  • We can get rid of our own red tape such as – procurement terms and payment terms.

Help from others

Business can’t do this without partners. I know we can do better but so can others.

From my experience in government, can I make these suggestions:

  • Please make it easier to work to create jobs and economic opportunity. Try not to make it harder than it should be
  • Move to an investment model, not a paternalistic program model
  • Get rid of some of the rules – they won’t work.

These approaches haven’t worked.

You can’t have innovation and wealth creation in a rigid program model designed by one group of people for another.


I’m optimistic and I’m proud of what our companies are doing.

We are making progress.

In 2009 – 30 per cent of our members were involved in indigenous engagement – it’s now 85 per cent.

Our member companies alone have created around 17, 000 jobs.

Our member companies alone have generated $1.7 billion dollars in indigenous supplier contracts

Our challenge is to build on what we have done.

To do more, to do better, because we must.