Cultural engagement

In Australia, Downer operates across approximately 300 sites, covering all corners of the country. Our operations are deeply embedded in local communities, and we are committed to developing genuine long-term relationships and working closely with Traditional Owners to ensure we respect their traditional lands that we work on.

Downer’s experienced Indigenous Engagement team not only brokers relationships with Indigenous partners, but also works with operational and bid/tender mobilisation teams to develop and implement Indigenous engagement and participation plans to meet customer requirements and Downer’s objectives and targets.

This team works closely with community to deliver social procurement and employment opportunities to build capability in the communities we operate in.

In a collaboration aimed at creating employment for the local Aboriginal community, the Western Australia State Government provided $1 million for a pilot program between Downer and Wiluna’s Martu-ku Yiwarra Training Centre. The joint initiative with Main Roads WA focused on providing employment opportunities for Aboriginal people through road construction and maintenance projects.

The project to seal five kilometres of the Goldfields Highway is a crucial starting point to connecting the remote Outback communities of Wiluna and Meekatharra.

Downer met with the Martu-ku Yiwarra Training Centre and the Martu people, including the local Elders, to develop a meaningful relationship with the community. The Martu people are the Traditional Owners of a large part of the western deserts of Western Australia, and continue to practise their traditional lore, language and culture.

Building a close and trusted relationship with the community Elders and fostering a collaborative approach has been key in the success of the project. The Martu people are invested in working on their own land in ways that contribute to the ongoing success of their community, for both current and future generations.

The program included training that equipped the Martu students with the necessary skills in plant operation and traffic management. The program was specifically tailored to balance the commitments the Martu students have to family and traditional lore as well as their desire to join the labour force.

Employment across the project has made a substantial positive change within the community which is currently affected by drugs, alcohol and lack of employment opportunities. Martu employees have now developed a transferrable skillset to seek employment opportunities in the surrounding regions of the Jigalong, Parnngurr, Punmu and Kunawarritji communities.

The successful pilot program has created significant interest in additional roles within the community, and Downer is working closely with Main Roads WA to continue using this model and the Martu-ku Yiwarra Training Centre to deliver other packages of work in the region.

Downer has also built long-standing commercial partnerships with Indigenous organisations, including:

  • Bama Services – Downer has partnered with this multi award-winning Indigenous business on a range of initiatives since 2014. In 2020, we solidified this partnership by forming the Bama Downer Joint Venture. The partnership has already delivered more than $20 million worth of major road and associated civil infrastructure on the Peninsula Developmental Road in Cape York, Far North Queensland. The Downer-Bama partnership is improving the accessibility, safety and reliability of transport infrastructure for the local communities of Cape York, which positively contributes toward local Indigenous employment, training and economic development outcomes. But the partnership goes beyond that. It is also about Downer developing the skills, capabilities and experience of the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce, leading to a greater sense of empowerment and broader employment and training opportunities. Downer’s support of Bama Services has been instrumental in Bama achieving a Department of Transport & Main Roads R2:B2 rating. Bama is the only wholly Indigenous-owned business to hold this prequalification level. The partnership with

Downer has also supported Bama to attain an ISO-accredited Health, Safety, Environment and Quality Management System, as well as a Federal Safety Commission certification.

  • Waanyi Downer Joint Venture (WDJV) – A 50:50 partnership between Waanyi Enterprises, representing local Traditional Owners and Downer. It is the first equitable 50:50 mining services joint venture formed between a corporation and a local Aboriginal community-based organisation. The WDJV has provided care and maintenance and rehabilitation services at the Century Mine near Mt Isa in Queensland since July 2016.

In New Zealand, Downer’s approach to cultural engagement is industry-leading.

Our Te Ara Whanake Māori Leadership Program has been particularly effective in ingraining Māori culture within the business. It gives our people a deeper understanding of Māori history, and helps us develop meaningful cultural engagement plans.

An example of Downer’s approach to cultural engagement in New Zealand comes from the Wynyard Edge Alliance (WEA), which turned Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter waterfront into a set of bases and other infrastructure that enabled the city to successfully host the 36th America’s Cup on Auckland Harbour in March 2021.

Working to a tight timeframe, WEA successfully delivered world-class infrastructure, meeting its mission to ‘create a stage for the America’s Cup and a waterfront destination that Kiwis love’.

Key to the project’s success was the enduring partnerships formed with local stakeholders, and with Mana Whenua (Māori who have historic and territorial rights over the land).

The sensitive coastal nature of the project made it essential to form a positive working relationship with Mana Whenua. The project established the America’s Cup Kaitiaki Engagement Forum, where Mana Whenua could express their Tikanga and fulfill their role as kaitiaki (guardian for the sky, sea and land) while working together with the WEA on their journey to deliver the infrastructure. This inclusive approach built a trusted relationship where issues were quickly resolved in a constructive way.

Management plans incorporated feedback from Mana Whenua, which focused on areas of cultural value and interest. This included initiatives to improve water quality and to reduce and manage underwater noise to protect marine animals.

The partnership allowed opportunities for Mana Whenua to express their values and tell their stories through structural representations and incorporation of cultural artwork – leaving culturally significant legacies that will endure long into the future.

Maintaining strong and effective collaborative relationships with Mana Whenua ensured they were a close part of the team. This resulted in a number of important activities during the project, which included:

  • A marine biologist appointed to monitor the impacts of piling work on marine mammals
  • Innovations to re-use contaminated fill
  • Completion of dawn blessings at identified milestones
  • Bilingual signage and naming of places
  • Cultural induction completed by Mana Whenua for all WEA staff onsite
  • Cultural elements and cultural markers across the project, and engagement of Iwi artists to design and deliver cultural elements
  • Sustainable practices introduced by Mana Whenua embedded in WEA construction and methodology
  • Consistently high Mana Whenua engagement
  • Mana Whenua-led initiatives to improve water quality and protect marine mammals.