Crown Resorts, a casino giant that has faced royal commissions in two states over allegations that it facilitated money laundering and allowed organized crime-related garbage to bring in gamblers, is one of the big companies to receive millions from Aboriginal federal government employment.
The $ 3.6 million grant to Crown Resorts is one of several awarded to large corporations under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, a $ 4.9 billion fund established in 2014 to alleviate indigenous disadvantages.
Thirty-nine percent of all IAS current funding — about $ 1.685 billion — is paid to 589 corporations, charities, and non-indigenous organizations.
At least $ 91.7 million in money has been awarded to just the 10 largest Australian companies, including Crown, Wesfarmers, Woolworths, Fortescue Metals and Accor Hotels, under a scheme called the Employment Parity Initiative (EPI).
The Australian National Indigenous Agency confirmed that Crown had paid $ 2.29 million to hire 230 indigenous employees “and to keep jobs for at least 26 weeks”.
The NIAA said the agreement with Crown, which began in August 2015 and expires in June this year, provided up to $ 3,622 million for an additional “400 Indigenous Australians to a range of jobs in catering, management, insurance and household”.
Large corporate partners in the scheme receive payment when an indigenous employee achieves a minimum employment period of at least six months.
But during a tense exchange at last week’s Senate hearing, Green Senator Lidia Thorpe asked NIAA officials, “Given that they have billions and billions of dollars in revenue, why do they need money from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy?
‘Raking it in’
“Businesses with billions of dollars don’t need government funds, taxpayers, to hire Aboriginal people,” Thorpe said.
“Our communities need this money. And if you want to reduce the gap, I would stop giving money to mining companies and these big corporations that grab it. They just don’t need the money. It has to go to people. “
Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker responded, “I guess we have philosophical differences in that [this] and that’s why I respect your different view, but the outcomes of hiring indigenous people are something the Coalition cares about very much. And we consider this to be money that goes directly to the basic mass, going into the pockets of indigenous people. “
Crown is facing royal commissions in Western Australia and Victoria after an investigation in New South Wales found that it facilitated money laundering and that junk operators who brought high-rollers linked to organized crime to his casinos in Perth and Melbourne.
An NSW investigation, led by former judge Patricia Bergin, found that Crown was incapable of owning a $ 2.2 billion license for his new casino in Barangaroo, Sydney Harbor.
Bergin’s report, presented in the NSW parliament in February, led to the exodus of board members and board members, and put major shareholder James Packer, who resigned from the board in 2018, under pressure to sell his stake in the company. The private equity group Blackstone offered to buy the group.
A Crown spokesman did not answer Guardian Australia’s questions about the EPI, including whether uncertainty about its operations would affect its participation.
In a brief statement in response to detailed questions, the spokesman said: “Crown has employed more than 1,000 Indigenous Australians since 2009 and is committed to continuing efforts to provide long-term training and employment to more Indigenous Australians.
“Crown has received major industry, state and federal government awards for his Indigenous employment program.”
Woolworths, who is the largest corporate recipient of EPI money with $ 25.2 million set aside, said the money was paid to train more than 3,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island job seekers over five years.
“Every cent of the funds we have received in the past five years has gone to our employment service partner – Diversity Dimensions – to support participants and deliver the program,” a spokesman said. “We pay the full salary price for team members in the program and do not retain any of the funds.”
He said 70% of the people engaged under the scheme remained employed at the six-month limit.
The company did not directly answer a question about how many were left employed after a year, but said it now employs nearly 5,000 people who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands.
Wesfarmers received the next largest award, $ 15.8 million, under an agreement reached in May 2019, but the company said it has received only $ 2 million so far and will receive the full amount needed to hire “an additional 1,985 Aboriginal people and Islanders Strait Strait in its business ”.
“We employed more than 2,700 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as of December 31, 2020, which is 2.5 percent of our Australian workforce,” a spokesman said. “Since the launch of the program in the first quarter of 2020, the number of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island members has increased by about 800.
‘Passion for change towards indigenous employment’
“Although the program is in its early stages, the vast majority of new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island members employed in 2020 are still in business.”
Ventii, which until last was known as Broadspectrum, was awarded $ 5.9 million. “Over the past five years, 477 people have been employed for 26 or more weeks and 352 for more than a year,” a spokesman said.
Indigenous firm chairman Eddie Fry said he witnessed the “positive impact” of the program and urged it to “support and expand, measure and expand.”
“Our journey began with a passion for change in the employment and procurement of indigenous people that I believe have matured to the point where they are now investing deeply and dedicating themselves to this business,” he said.
Fortescue was awarded $ 3.8 million for the two-year program, but the company said that after further consideration of the needs of its job, it withdrew from EPI and returned the money. Its CEO, Elizabeth Gaines, said the company is “proud to be one of Australia’s largest Aboriginal Australian employers” and has 891 Aboriginal employees, which is about 10% of the workforce.
Another major recipient of EPI funds, Hutchinson Builders, provided Guardian Australia with detailed information on the scheme’s performance. It was awarded $ 7.2 million, but has received $ 5.3 million since 2015, according to CEO Greg Quinn.
“Hutchinsons has provided 547 employment outcomes for indigenous job seekers, directly within Hutchinsons and with our subcontractors and suppliers,” he said.
“Of these, 476 are employed after 26 weeks, and the remaining 71 are currently employed (but still under 6 months). 211 indigenous employees are still employed after 12 months, and another 126 remain on track to reach this milestone. “
‘This liberal government gives millions to the Crown’
Under contracts it signs with IAS suppliers, the NIAA has the right to terminate the contract if the service provider has “violated any law, gone bankrupt or insolvent, entered into a creditor scheme, or is under any form of outside administration” or if there has been a change in administration that would affect his ability to respect.
The NIAA has not answered specific questions about whether Crown considers it a violation of its agreement. But a spokesman for the agency said the financing deal with the casino giant was up to $ 3,622 million, and the money will only be released “when Crown provides evidence of the indigenous person’s placement at work for at least 26 weeks.”
A spokesman said the NIAA regularly reviewed service providers and adjusted its risk assessments “as needed”. Crown’s contract expires on June 30th.
But Thorpe has since accused the Morrison government of using the NIAA “as a slush fund to give millions of dollars to its big donors, including Casino Crown.”
“It’s frightening that this liberal government is giving millions to Crown – a massive corporation that is already making huge profits on misery and damage,” Thorpe told the Guardian Australia.
He turned to Crown for an answer to these allegations.
The $ 4.8 billion IAS was created in 2014 by the Abbott government to “improve the way the government does business with Aboriginal people and residents of Torres Strait Strait, to ensure that funding actually achieves results.”
His administration has been called into question several times.
The Australian State Audit Office investigated the IAS in 2017 and found that the grant administration processes “did not meet the standard needed to effectively manage a billion dollars of Commonwealth funds”.
In 2018, former Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion came under fire for allocating IAS funds to the Northern Territory Livestock Association, the NT Fishermen’s Association and the Northern Territory Seafood Council – an industry group he once chaired – so that they could to oppose the claims of the aborigines.
Scullion said he approved the grants from the IAS because “there is a clear need for a stakeholder group to be better informed about Aboriginal issues in NT.”
“I am committed to every dollar and every cent of IAS funding I have approved, and every IAS support has been done in accordance with IAS guidelines,” he said.
In 2019, Scullion approved more than $ 560 million in funding from the IAS in the last six weeks in the role.
The ANAO looked again at the IAS after the 2019 elections and found that “five years later” there were “significant delays” in establishing a reliable way to measure the results of the IAS program.
He said developing criteria for assessing “significance, contribution and risk” should be a priority.
A NIAA spokesman said he was conducting an independent EPI assessment.
“The results of this assessment are expected in the middle of the year, and the NIAA’s practice is to publish the assessments on its website within four months of finalization,” a spokesman said. “This assessment will assist the NIAA in considering future employment programs and policies.”