Australia: How do you answer tender questions about Indigenous participation when you are a small business? - Tender Advice

Australia: How do you answer tender questions about Indigenous participation when you are a small business?

Small businesses often find this to be one of the trickier questions to answer in a tender.

Larger businesses may have dedicated staff working on their strategies, a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) outlining their current and intended activities, and structured programs. But what does a small business do?

It is not enough to state your commitment and show a policy. Let me say that again. It is not enough to state your commitment and show a policy.

If you want to score well in the evaluation, you need to develop meaningful initiatives that demonstrate your commitment. And there are ways to do this even if you are a small team.

Things you should consider:

  1. Do you need new team members to deliver the services – and if the answer is yes, are there opportunities to hire First Nations peoples in your local area?
  2. Are there local First Nations businesses you can commit to supporting as part of your tender response or who you already use? This can include both suppliers and subcontractors.
  3. Are there local programs you could be part of, like mentoring or work experience for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?
  4. Are there ways you can get your supply chain involved in similar commitments and share their initiatives in the tender response, e.g. a local subcontractor who may employ Indigenous people or commit to it?
  5. Are there ways you can raise awareness of Reconciliation amongst your own team and your supply chain, recognise and develop a culturally safe organisation?


Your ability to employ Indigenous Australians to deliver services on the contract will depend on the skills available and the local employment market. Not everyone can commit to this and that is ok.

If you already have First Nations employees, share in the tender how long they have worked with you, what skills building and training opportunities you have given them, and any strategies you have put in place to support their continued employment – for example, supporting employees to acknowledge significant dates and cultural events, visiting the community, or the need for time away from work for issues such as Sorry business.

If you plan to employ new staff if you win the tender, get in contact with a local Indigenous employment agency to talk through how they may be able to help you in the recruitment process. Write about the steps you have taken in the tender and that if awarded you will work with this company to identify potential candidates.

Support local First Nations businesses

Try to find local First Nations businesses you can purchase products or services from. You can check the Supply Nation website or search for First Nations businesses in your local area.

When I was writing a tender for a small business in construction, we found a supplier of sunscreen who was a local business, a social enterprise and an Indigenous business. Ticking many boxes for the evaluation criteria but also making a meaningful commitment and an easy product category to switch out.

Other examples you can implement:

  • Include an Indigenous owned business as a subcontractor to deliver work under the contract
  • Commit to purchasing work uniforms from an Indigenous provider (and wearing them, for example, during NAIDOC week to raise awareness)
  • Consult with a local employment organisations that specialise with helping First Nations peoples into work
  • Find an Indigenous organisation or Aboriginal Elder who can provide cultural training for your team
  • Commission an artwork from a local Indigenous business and use it to launch your Reconciliation journey

Showcase the achievements of your subcontractors

Make sure you talk to your subcontractors about their commitments and include these in the tender response too. They may already be employing Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples or buying from Indigenous businesses.

By choosing subcontractors who prioritise Reconciliation, you are demonstrating that this is important to your business.

Other ways to show your commitment

  • Acknowledgement of Country on your key documents
  • Welcome to Country at team and client meetings
  • Organise cultural training for your staff on connection to country, kinship and family obligations
  • Review your policies to see how you can better support First Nations employees
  • Recognise significant cultural events like NAIDOC week, Sorry Day and National Reconciliation Week, both amongst your team but also on your social media to publicly show your support

Respectful language always

While you are working on this part of your response and in your internal communications, make sure you are using appropriate and respectful language. I take guidance from Aunty Munya Andrews (Aboriginal Elder) who is on LinkedIn and recommends:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • Indigenous Australians
  • First Peoples
  • First Nations
  • First Australians

Always capital letters!

Picture of Rebecca Skagestad

Rebecca Skagestad


tender advice

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