Companies linked to tax havens and one of China’s wealthiest property developers have been handed federal government grants to employ remote Aboriginal work-for-the-dole participants under the 1,000 jobs program – a scheme that was supposed to primarily benefit Indigenous business.
The $50m, 1,000 jobs program, which aims to generate employment for Aboriginal jobseekers and businesses in remote Australia, has created just 400 jobs in the two years it has been running.
The program offers a wage subsidy to support businesses to take on Community Development Program (CDP) participants as new, ongoing employees for a minimum of 15 hours per week, making payments once an employer provides evidence of employment outcomes.
When the former Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion launched the scheme in 2019, he said it would have “focus on supporting Indigenous businesses” and would help “businesses operating in remote Australia to expand”.
But the Guardian can reveal that among the companies approved to receive the payment are Shiying Yougawalla No.2 Pty Ltd and Argyle Cattle Company Pty Ltd, both of which are part of one of China’s biggest property development empires, Shimao Property.
Shiying Yougawalla was approved for two grants in October and December for $56,099.36, and $114,040.96 to create three jobs. Argyle Cattle Company was approved for a grant of $112,198.72 in December for two jobs.
Shiying Yougawalla lists Hui Wing Mau and his daughter Hui Mei Mei among its directors and is ultimately held by a company named Perfect Zone International, according to company records.
Notices filed with the Hong Kong stock exchange show Perfect Zone International is domiciled in the British Virgin Islands.
Argyle Cattle Company lists Hui Mei Mei as a director and is owned, through a series of companies, by a partnership involving Shimao.
According to the company’s website, Shimao is incorporated in the Cayman Islands.
A spokesperson for Shiying Yougawalla and Argyle Cattle said the grant money had not yet been received.
“Company management successfully applied for the 1,000 Jobs Grant in the hope of creating additional Indigenous jobs. We have not yet received this funding.
“Once we develop the program for these further Indigenous opportunities and their employment has commenced, only then will we be able to access the funding. There will be no cost to the taxpayer until we have delivered on this.
“We are a business with a strong social conscience. We currently employ Indigenous staff and will always continue to do so. This grant is giving us the opportunity to viably create new long-term opportunities for additional local Indigenous people that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.
“With our geographical location and our work being based in and around communities with high numbers of CDP participants we believe that we are very well placed to facilitate these opportunities.
“Both companies pay tax in Australia as required under Australian law.”
There is no suggestion that the companies have done anything wrong and the Guardian has no evidence to suggest they are not complying with their Australian tax obligations.
But the revelations raise questions about the effectiveness of the 1,000 jobs program.
A spokesperson for the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), which administers the program, said all grant approvals are made in accordance with the commonwealth rules and guidelines.
“Applicants provide a range of documents allowing the agency to assess their financial situation, governance and risk structures and their service delivery capability,” a NIAA spokesperson said.
“The agency conducts activity risk assessments and organisation risk profile ratings and appoints a local grants manager to ensure funding is expended in accordance with funding agreements.
“Anyone with evidence of wrongdoing by an organisation in receipt of IAS [Indigenous Advancement Strategy] funding is encouraged to provide this to the NIAA.”
The 1,000 jobs program is yet to be evaluated, NIAA confirmed. It will be considered through the “usual annual evaluation work plan process”.
NIAA said its preference is to fund Indigenous organisations for grants “but any organisation that meets the eligibility criteria for a given opportunity, and can demonstrate their ability to deliver the outcomes, remains eligible to apply.”
“With 600 places remaining in the program, other companies and incorporated associations are still able to apply for funding to employ current CDP participants.”
The Northern Territory senator and Yanyuwa woman Malarndirri McCarthy said the program was a “failed experiment” imposed on Indigenous people by the Morrison government.
“Instead of winding the program up as originally intended, the government has decided to extend to 2023, with no announcement, no reason and no evaluation,” McCarthy said. “This government’s Indigenous jobs strategy is completely failing to deliver jobs. It’s failed with CDP. It’s failed with 1,000 jobs. And its failed job services across remote Australia.”
The ACTU’s Indigenous officer, Birri Gubba woman Lara Watson, said she did not think spending $16.67m to create 400 jobs was a fair return on investment.
“No I do not. And it really makes me scratch my head. I realise we’ve been in a pandemic, but this [program] was in place in 2019, well before the pandemic had hit. And now that we’re coming out of it, that number really is mind boggling.
“I’m just worried that at the end, when this funding winds up, then the jobs wind up and people are back to where they were in the beginning. And if it’s not around job creation, sustainable jobs, then it’s a huge amount of taxpayers’ dollars that could be doing something meaningful for remote communities. It could be looking at what they need. I know they need plumbers, they need electricians, they need builders,” Watson said.
“So it just frustrates me because if it’s not creating that permanent sustainable employment that people want, then what is it doing? It’s just a cash grab.”