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The Wara Paring (Come Walk the Path Together) Indigenous Civil Construction Project is a first-of-its-kind, 100 per cent Indigenous-owned contract services and training initiative working in the Melbourne water industry.

Its aim is to build on the successful partnerships that have led to the creation of a small non-destructive digging company and continue to expand to create safe and sustainable employment opportunities for young Indigenous Australian people.

At its heart – Wara Paring hopes to inspire other organisations to create positive and lasting cultural change.

How it all began

Four years ago, Melbourne Water (MWC) embarked on a journey to create a new major capital works delivery model. Its objective as part of the tendering process was to stimulate the marketplace to consider forming consortia that could provide a full, turnkey service (Design, Civil, Mechanical and Electrical) in the delivery of small-scale capital projects.

The other prerequisites for success in the tendering process were aligned values and a passion for driving improved safety and social principles.

Aqua Metro Services (AMS) was successful in the tendering process and appointed as Melbourne Water’s delivery partner for the Small Scale Capital Program.

Melbourne Water’s General Manager Major Program Delivery, Eamonn Kelly, explained, “What impressed us in AMS’ bid was their demonstrated passion and enthusiasm for making a difference in relation to social value – and their honest approach in recognising that while they did not have a solution there and then – they were absolutely committed to working it out collaboratively with Melbourne Water.”

Immediately after, both organisations brought together their leadership teams and diversity and strategic procurement managers to develop a pioneering Diversity and Inclusion Management Plan.

A key focus of this was to create meaningful and sustainable social value and solidify the strategic relationship.

A commitment to creating sustainable employment

As a first step, Indigenous Cultural Awareness Training was provided to both Melbourne Water and AMS senior management by Bundyi Giilang Indigenous Education.

This was facilitated by Leon Egan, and introduced facts, learnings and debate around ‘why Indigenous Australia is still where it is today’ Eamonn Kelly said all senior management were challenged to consider the question, “What are you prepared to do to change this situation?”

“The facts that Leon Egan presented in his training were extremely confronting, sad and shocking. One was left in no doubt as to the lived experience and impact of intergenerational trauma on today’s Indigenous Australians and the significant hurdle this presents to young Indigenous Australians securing sustainable employment,” Mr Kelly said.

With a collective focus to tackle this and create real and ongoing job opportunities for Indigenous Australians, the team considered many initiatives and ideas before agreeing on a structured training program that would lead to the creation of a first of its kind, 100 per cent Indigenous-owned civil construction business in Victoria.

The initiative, named the ‘Wara Paring Indigenous Project’, set out to build a sustainable business model that could be replicated in any other market sector and would – if more widely adopted – lead to economic empowerment for Indigenous Australia.

The Wara Paring initiative has been recognised at both state and national levels, winning the 2021 Australian Water Association Organisational Excellence Award and receiving a high commendation from the 2020 World Commerce and Contracting Innovation and Excellence Awards for Delivering Social and Economic Benefit.

This acknowledgement affirms the importance of supporting the development and creation of Indigenous business, providing Wara Paring Civil with exposure across the water industry and promoting opportunity for business growth.

Finally and significantly – it highlights the social value that can occur between water corporations and their suppliers when there is genuine commitment to creating positive cultural change.

AMS Services Manager, Soyun Punyadasa, said the creation of Wara Paring is an example of what can happen when like-minded and innovative organisations join forces to support social value through meaningful programs.

“The Wara Paring team are blazing a trail to help create employment for Indigenous Australians. We hope that other organisations can follow this example to create a legacy of positive change in our country.”

A culturally safe and supportive work environment

Melbourne Water have ensured that Wara Paring have a robust pipeline of work to support their early development and growth which will lead to broader opportunities across the Victorian and national water industry.

For Melbourne Water’s capital delivery program, trenchless technology and non-destructive digging presented a clear and long-term pathway of work with relatively low risk and ample scope to drive efficiency in productivity.

It also offers potential growth into symbiotic activities such as cleaning and road sweeping, GIS plotting and traffic management. There are many advantages of creating a 100 per cent Indigenous-owned business such as Wara Paring Civil.

The most significant benefit is that Indigenous-owned businesses are 100 times more likely to hire Indigenous people, as they feel culturally safe. Currently, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up just 1.6 per cent of employees across the Victorian water sector.

The owners of Wara Paring Civil – Leon Egan, Daniel Charles, David George and Cory McGrath – are committed to creating an enduring business to service the water industry and provide training and development to young Indigenous workers in a work environment that is culturally safe and supportive.

From left to right – David George (Wara Paring), Marcus Wade (Aqua Metro Services), Eamonn Kelly (Melbourne Water), Daniel Charles (Wara Paring), Soyun Punyadasa (Aqua Metro Services), Avanti Gosavi (Aqua Metro Services), Stephen Morris (Aqua Metro Services), Edyta Grzyb (Melbourne Water), Greg Chalmers (Aqua Metro Services), Leon Egan (Wara Paring), Niru Gosavi (Melbourne Water) at the 2021 Australian water awards.

Wara Paring Civil’s Managing Director, Leon Egan, said that this opportunity will make a real difference to Indigenous communities. “We are very aware of the responsibility that has been afforded to us as owners of an Indigenous business and excited at this opportunity.

We see ourselves as strong role models within our community. “Our unique experience has enabled us to develop the core capabilities required for business and employee success – along with a shared dream of creating meaningful and sustainable outcomes for Indigenous Australia.”

To that end – Kinaway, the Victorian Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, has adopted the Wara Paring training plan as the model for creation of all future Indigenous start-up businesses.

This first-of-its-kind, innovative business partnership between Melbourne Water, Aqua Metro Services and Wara Paring is going from strength to strength and hopes to serve as a catalyst in galvanising organisations across Australia to develop similar programs that address social inclusion and support Indigenous businesses to thrive and grow.

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