HISTORY was made last week when Brad Welsh was named as the first Indigenous Australian to lead an ASX-listed minerals company.
Welsh was named as the CEO and managing director of Energy Resources Australia in the Northern Territory.
The former acting general manager of Weipa’s operations called Cape York home for seven years before being appointed as Rio Tinto’s chief adviser to the CEO on Indigenous Affairs.
Welsh said his time in Cape York had been critical to his development as a leader and was proud to have made history as an Indigenous chief executive.
Before joining Rio Tinto in 2011 he had been working in politics before pivoting to the private sector.
“I have spent my life and career trying to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take our rightful place in the economic and social fabric of the nation,” he said.
“I noticed that not many Indigenous leaders were taking roles and opportunities in the corporate sector so decided to pursue work and leadership there. When we think about the broader Australian community the vast majority of wealth and economic participation comes from the corporate sector.
“In my experience in Aboriginal communities, the majority of economic participation comes from the government sector.
“I wanted to be a senior leader who is Indigenous not a senior Indigenous leader – this means bringing Indigenous thought to the centre of a business and showing that there can be enormous value in thinking differently.
“I am really excited about this appointment and I hope that it can show Indigenous people everywhere that senior leadership of the corporate sector is not just an opportunity for our mob but for the corporate sector to drive real and long-lasting change into our future.”
Welsh said he would draw on the experience of learning from Traditional Owners on Country to lead ERA.
“In my career, I have had to change direction several times to take the next level of leadership development,” he said.
“In Weipa, I made a pivot from functional leadership (community relations) to operational leadership, which made my leadership fuller and allowed me to grow further into more senior opportunities.
“I also learnt an enormous amount sitting on Country with Traditional Owners. I had spent my entire life marching for land rights and having the chance to work with Traditional Owners in Cape York to implement those rights in a real way is something I will never forget.
“Cape York also made me realise that we have shared interests, we all want mining operations to be safe and sustainable, we all want the owners of the land to receive fair compensation and economic opportunities and we all want to invest in a shared future.”
With a three-year contract to lead ERA, Welsh hopes he can strengthen ties with Traditional Owners in the Kakadu region.
“ERA is a great business with a chequered history of engagement with Traditional Owners,” he said.
“While the business has been on a genuine journey of working with Traditional Owners, I really want to enhance that through my leadership of the business.
“ERA is undertaking one of the world’s most complex rehabilitation projects – we are remediating an old uranium mine site to a standard that can be incorporated into the Kakadu National Park.
“While this can be daunting and is very complex, it is also exciting to get the opportunity to heal the land in a way that builds and supports the rich Indigenous cultural landscape of the area.
“We are working with various owners and stakeholders to decide on appropriate criteria but also deliver in partnership world-class rehabilitation which we can all be proud of.”