The Hon. Shannon Fentiman MP On How State Government Is Growing The Social Enterprise Ecosystem In Queensland

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Shannon Fentiman holds a Bachelor of Laws (First Class Hons) from QUT and completed her Master of Laws at Melbourne University. She was admitted as a Legal Practitioner in 2007.

Prior to her election to the Queensland Parliament as the Member for Waterford, Shannon worked as a solicitor and also worked as a Judge’s Associate in the Supreme Court of Queensland to her Honour Justice Atkinson.

With considerable experience in employment law, Shannon is committed to the creation and protection of quality jobs in Queensland, and is a passionate advocate for quality education and training opportunities for all members of the community.

Delivering the government’s commitment to creating jobs for Queenslanders and supporting local businesses to reach their full potential are Shannon’s main priorities as Minister for Employment and Small Business and the Minister for Skills and Training Development.

 

Minister Fentiman talks about the strong grassroots social enterprise movement in Queensland and how government is creating a Social Enterprise Strategy to help support the sector and ultimately make a difference in the lives of vulnerable Queensland families. 

 

Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)

[Tom Allen] - Minister Fentiman, could you please share a bit about your background and the journey you took before entering politics?

[Hon. Shannon Fentiman MP] - Well I think you've covered a lot of it there, but certainly in my own local community of Logan, I was volunteering with many non-government organisations. I was a solicitor with the Beenleigh Neighbourhood Centre, I was on the board of the Centre Against Sexual Violence and Logan Women's Health.

And I just saw a real need for a community champion that would stand up and really be a strong voice for my local community.

At the time, the previous government was making a lot of cuts to organisations, like the ones I was volunteering with. So that gave me a lot of passion to step up and put my hand up to represent my community. And I have to say, I'm loving it.

So I grew up in a household that wasn't necessarily political, but discussed what was happening around us. And there was always lively debate and discussion at the dinner table. My Mum's a teacher, my Dad's a carpenter. So, I've got that passion for making sure that everyone has access to world class education no matter where they live, and also, as you can see from my background in employment law, making sure people have decent, safe jobs.

So, I was always probably going to end up doing something like this, but it's an incredible privilege to have this role and I feel like we're making a great difference for so many families.

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So what do you find to be the most rewarding part of your job?

There are so many rewarding parts, but I think it's when you meet people whose lives you've directly change or impacted. My previous role was the Minister for Child Safety and the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence. So incredibly difficult policy areas, but when you would meet women who could go to a specialist domestic violence court on the Gold Coast, for example, (the first of its kind in the country), and tell me what a huge difference that made to them seeking justice after experiencing violence, there's no other job in the world that allows you to change people's lives like that so directly.

And [it’s] that same passion I've found working with so many of the stakeholders in the social innovation, social enterprise space.

We're all here to try and make a big difference in people's lives, and when that happens, and you get that feedback, that's what keeps you going.

Absolutely. So, within a Queensland context then, where do you see the biggest issues and the biggest challenges for Queensland moving forward?

Well, Queensland is a huge decentralised state. So we have a challenge to keep the South East powering along here in Brisbane, but also making sure that our regional communities are growing. That there is economic development happening right across the state and that we are growing jobs, not just here in the southeast, but across regional Queensland. So there are a lot of challenges in terms of making sure that everyone gets an opportunity to get a foot in the door with their first job; it's something that Government is really committed to.

And we know that sometimes there are some families that will require some extra help, and that's where I really see the role of social enterprise coming in.

Particularly for those vulnerable Queensland families, vulnerable Queenslanders, they might need that bit of extra case management, help them through mental health issues, or whatever it is and social enterprise can be a great partner for us in that. In trying to bring everyone up to a level where they can access their first job.

It absolutely can. We've definitely seen an increase in awareness about social enterprise, and there's this growing understanding and consumer support for purpose-driven business as well, very much for the Millennials too. Recently you've been engaging key sector leaders in roundtable discussions which is fantastic to see. You've also held a social enterprise event at Parliament which unveiled the goal to create 5,000 jobs through social enterprise. So could you please share what you see as some of the biggest developments in the social enterprise sector in Queensland, and where State Government's commitment and policy lies moving into the future?

Yeah. Well look, I think, Tom you're right.

There is a huge strong grassroots movement here in Queensland. We have some fantastic social enterprise success stories. It's a really strong, networked group.

But for the last few years, for whatever reason, the State Government really hasn't been playing a role in helping to strengthen those networks and really providing a framework for the ecosystem to flourish. So, I have to say, the meetings that I've been having with our social entrepreneurs and our academics, they have to be the most motivating two hours of my week, so much passion in the room. And so really I want to work with the social enterprise network [QSEC] that already exists to put in place a policy framework to support and strengthen them, and we're working towards a strategy.

But we've also seen some big movements in other agencies like Public Works and Housing.

We now have a dedicated policy which says, government procurement, government money should go to social enterprise.

So having that as a policy and now a procurement agenda, I think is a huge leap forward of the Queensland, so that's pretty exciting. And of course, I've also asked Jobs Queensland, which is the independent body that provides government with advice around planning for the future workforce, to do some analysis about the impact that social enterprise already has in Queensland's job market, and that will then help us in the development of our strategy.

Because if government has key priorities such as creating jobs, creating a safe community, helping people with their mental health issues, then we don't have to do that alone as the government, because we've got these fantastic social businesses that are also wanting to do this, so why wouldn't we partner and leverage from each other?

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Definitely. So that ambitious goal of 5,000 jobs, that was great. And you can see that being created through social enterprise. But beyond that employment objective, what other ambitious goals do you believe the sector could aim towards, which recognises that social enterprise is not just about jobs? How might we provide support for place-based, smaller scale initiatives, which are commonly led by women, and also Indigenous-led initiatives in the space?

Absolutely. And again, we've got some fantastic examples of social enterprises already delivering for vulnerable women or Indigenous people on the Cape, so, we want to harness that. And yes, the government has a real focus around jobs, but of course, we have six key priorities for government. And, for example, one of them is about protecting the Great Barrier reef. So as part of our roundtable, we've got James from The Good Beer Company, and he basically makes beer where the money goes back to saving the Great Barrier Reef. So why wouldn't you want to drink beer and save the Great Barrier Reef?

So, we have a lot of people who are doing all sorts of things in the community, which are all tied to the government's priorities. We have a goal to get more young people either in jobs or training. The Hope Street Cafe, just across the river here in South Brisbane, does fantastic work with vulnerable young people, getting them ready for work and case managing them. The work that Vanguard Laundry does is fantastic, and it's not just about getting people jobs, it's about getting them access to good mental health care, and getting them housing, all of those other things that are so important. And we also have priorities around healthy start.

So again, social enterprises that work to provide people with proper health care and access to the help they need, are also important to government. So we obviously have a focus on jobs, but I know that there is so much more that social enterprise can do, and we want all of them to be supported through this framework.

Fantastic. It's good to hear. So, given Scotland's bilateral support across all levels of government to social enterprise; it was amazing to see this year at the World Forum over there where they're announcing local government strategies, and we saw the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, there leading an event. This bilateral support seems to be one of the factors that has helped them become a global leader in the space. So, how committed do you believe are the Opposition to supporting your policy initiatives, given the recent past and many great initiatives that have then become defunded, and what is the feedback from Members of the Opposition from recent events such as that of the social enterprise in Parliament?

Yeah, it's a really good question. And this really should be something that has bipartisan support, and I can't speak for the Opposition but certainly, there are a number of members from the Opposition who came to the event at Parliament House and spoke to some of our social entrepreneurs, and it was great to see their support. And certainly, I know Toowoomba seems to almost be ground zero, which is a town in the South East here about an hour and a half out of Brisbane. It’s where Vanguard is and Luke Terry but also a whole range of other social entrepreneurs in it. The Member for Toowoomba was there supporting our businesses.

So I do think that there will be strong bipartisan support for the work we're doing here in Queensland.

And it was wonderful at that event at Parliament to meet Vanda, one of the workers at Vanguard laundry, and it was great to hear her story about being out of work for 12 years. And she's not only gained this job, she's overcome a lot of personal issues, and has not looked back, and has really stepped up to be the face of what's happening here in Queensland with social enterprise.

You mentioned earlier, Minister Fentiman, your support for the social enterprise network, which is the Queensland Social Enterprise Council. And that's existed for years now due to the commitment and passion and essentially volunteering of social entrepreneurs who are creating this network of peer support.

So, how important do you believe that advocacy role is that QSEC plays, its relationship to government, and is there any commitment to assisting QSEC and QSEC members, such as Impact Boom, who are providing this capacity building into the regional and rural communities of Queensland, particularly those that are really suffering economic hardship?

Yeah, I think the capacity building is key and I absolutely believe we need to support peak bodies that support that capacity building and building that capability of the sector.

And I think that advocacy is absolutely essential to good governance as well. So, we're currently looking at ways we can support the industry including how we can fund the Queensland Social Enterprise Council to do the work they do, and there will be more good news in this space very, very shortly.

So I can't say too much at the moment, but certainly again, having come from my previous portfolio in the social services, I couldn't have done my job if it wasn't for well funded peak bodies that represent the sector, and it's the same here. When we have a strong grassroots network, but we really want to work with them to build a framework, we need to be resourcing them to do that work. So, there'll be some news shortly.

Shannon-Fentiman-MP-Waterford

Very exciting to hear. I'll look forward to it. Minister Fentiman, just earlier I mentioned the Social Enterprise World Forum, and that recently took place in Scotland, and there were over 1,400 social entrepreneurs who attended from over 47 different countries, that was over half of the people who gathered there. And they did that really to develop both the local and the global social enterprise sector and ecosystem. In the previous we saw New Zealand as well, and that served as an excellent catalyst to develop the sector, showcase the region, and it's left a lot of really positive legacies there as well. In fact, just this week I spoke to Louise Aitken the CEO of Ākina Foundation who was talking about those legacies there.

And so, the question is, if we're to bring such a forum to Queensland and Australia, more broadly, how might State Government consider supporting an Australian bid for the Social Enterprise World Forum, given that it would provide strong benefits to both our nation and the development of the sector in the Oceania region as well, and are there any other opportunities that you could see could significantly help develop the sector and therefore the positive outcomes they provide for our communities?

Yeah, look, I think it would be fantastic to bring the forum here. I know there's a lot of work being done in Queensland with many social entrepreneurs collaborating to form a bid to host the Social Enterprise World Forum here in Queensland. It'd be fantastic see it back in Australia. I understand Melbourne has had it before…

Yes, in 2009.

…and I know Victoria beat us to having a social enterprise framework and strategy, so it'd be really good to get the forum here since they've had it. And look, we'll obviously give it some careful consideration, but really happy to work with the sector on how we can help.

And I'm really excited to see what might be possible, because I think it would be a fantastic opportunity to showcase what's already happening here, great stories, but also really for government agencies to then step up and look at how we can play a part in strengthening the ecosystem.

And then, we don't have to start from scratch as you've said, everyone keeps talking to me about the great work that Scotland's doing, and also New Zealand, and Victoria.

So it is a great way for governments to see what's happening in other jurisdictions and then put that in place here in Queensland.

Fantastic. We'll look forward to working with you to make it happen. So to finish off, could you please recommend a few great books or resources to our listeners that you find inspiring?

Oh, this is a great question, and it does really reveal to me I have a lot of different interests, so I wasn't quite sure where to start, and I guess I just thought I'd mention a few books recently that I've read, that really gave me some food for thought.

The first one is actually a George Megalogenis book, The Football Solution. I am a mad AFL fan, which is strange for a Queenslander, I know, my family is from Victoria originally. So I love that. It was basically about AFL and politics; my two favourite passions. So, for anyone interested in either politics or AFL I highly recommend it.

Another one by a fantastic young Queenslander that I've read recently, by a woman called Bri Lee, it's called, The Eggshell Skull. It's basically a really great personal story of her. She was a victim of sexual assault. But she also talks about the current legal system, and some of its flaws, and how hard it is for victims to speak out. So incredibly timely, given everything that's happening, but a fantastic local writer, so I highly recommend it. I also, on the weekend, just bought Michelle Obama's book. I haven't read it yet, but I can't wait to get stuck into it. And who can think of a more inspiring woman. So, I'm really looking forward to that.

And I've recently just finished... I also love to get some good fiction in there. I think when you have these jobs where you read a lot of information, it's sometimes incredibly nice to go home and just delve into something completely fictional. And I've just finished reading the new Haruki Murakami novel, and, I have to say, his creativity never ceases to leave you feeling incredibly inspired. So, he's one of my favourite authors and I highly recommend his new book as well.

Well there's some fantastic books there.

Very wide selection. Something for everyone.

Minister Fentiman thanks so much for sharing your generous insights and time today, and we'll look forward to touching base with you again in the future.

Thank you so much Tom. And thank you for all the work that you do, really highlighting the fantastic work that social enterprise and social business do here, and I'm going to become a regular listener to your podcast.

 Minister Fentiman & Tom Allen

Minister Fentiman & Tom Allen

 

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