• Loretta Adidi and Kathleen David have found construction jobs on Thursday Island with the help of the Building and Construction Indigenous Corporation. (NITV)Source: NITV
There’s no shortage of construction projects in the Torres Strait, but locals say it’s outside workers who often get the big jobs, and the big bucks.
Ella Archibald-Binge

The Point
18 Oct 2018 - 9:49 AM  UPDATED 18 Oct 2018 - 9:50 AM

Thursday Island resident Kathleen David is eager to get back into the workforce after spending the last few years as a stay-at-home mum. 

A self-described outdoor person, she decided to study a Certificate II in Construction for "something different". 

But Ms David has struggled to put her skills to use.

"For me, I'm on [employment agency] My Pathway and it's very hard for us to get a job," she told The Point. 

She says local construction workers in the Torres Strait are often overlooked for major projects in favour of fly-in, fly-out workers.

"[It's] another step back and we gotta go through another way around it. Just try to get in there."

Ms David's experience is not unique, according to Kevin Savage, who owns a construction company on Thursday Island. 

He says he has struggled to compete with outside companies to win major tenders. 

"When we have the skills, you can’t be racist against us because this is our home," says Mr Savage. 

"It is sad to see our people walking the streets disqualified, while others are making their living in our backyard."

He says skilled local workers should be given a greater share, to help the community become self-sustainable.

"We had half a billion dollars going back 10 years ago that comes into the Torres Strait, and 80 per cent that leaves," says Mr Savage.

"If we turn that around... and 80 per cent stays here, it’s a very good economy. And our people here will be in jobs and we can do all the maintenance on the housing."

Now 14 local businesses have formed the Building and Construction Indigenous Corporation (BCIC) to keep jobs and revenue within the community. 

Established last year, the corporation provides a one-stop shop linking external contractors with local businesses.

"When a project happens, all the stakeholders involved in the project come together and sit down and say what is it that we need, and [what is] the capacity through the Indigenous and local businesses here in the region?" explains BCIC Director Patrick Mau.

Torres Shire Council Mayor Vonda Malone says the initiative is already yielding results. 

"I really commend the group," she told The Point. 

"It’s totally Indigenous-owned, and it showcases that we do have those skill sets in our communities and they need to have a fair go to be provided those jobs that would otherwise be to other parties outside of our region."

For Kathleen David, BCIC has helped her and a group of local women find work refurbishing the local radio station.

"It’ll benefit us out of it, the Indigenous or the local people up here... it'll be really good for us," she says.

Ultimately, the corporation wants Indigenous participation to hit 90 per cent for all major building projects.

"It should be at least 90 to 100 per cent," says Ms Malone. 

"And that’s not within the actual construction itself, but the spend within the community, throughout the community to other businesses."

BCIC Chair David Ah Boo said the corporation was about turning frustration into solutions, and helping local businesses become self-sustainable. 

"The objective is to build Indigenous futures, so they’ll decide, they’re the future," he says.

"We’re just trying to put something in place so we do have a better start for the next generation or whoever is next."

The Point airs Thursdays, 8.30pm on NITV (Ch.34) or catch up at On Demand

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