And they show what appear to be bullet holes in the roof of a building that was supposedly leased by the company for bookkeeping purposes.
Last year police mounted two raids on the East Keilor property and, in January, arrested and charged a former Raw employee, mechanic Anthony Velluto. In May he was sentenced to seven months in jail.
More trouble followed – the company is subject to a second, unrelated investigation by Victoria Police’s fraud and extortion squad.
Victoria’s Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions was tipped off last year about alleged fraud in relation to its contracts and grants with Raw Recruitment, sources familiar with the situation have told The Age. The department confirmed recently that it had suspended its relationship with the company last year and in April had referred it to the fraud squad.
The sources said the key allegations were that Raw Recruitment’s success in placing people in jobs was being overstated and, in some cases, jobs were given to people living interstate. Concerns have also been raised by former employees about the backdating of documents and that Raw was being paid to place Indigenous people in jobs but some of them were not Indigenous.
The company’s involvement in another Victorian government program to find work for young people from African backgrounds has also come under scrutiny, with former Raw Recruitment employees saying little effort was made to get candidates into jobs.
Several construction industry sources told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that a decision by Raw Recruitment to move into the labour hire business a few years ago had led to a noticeable decline in the number of Indigenous workers on construction sites around Melbourne.
“It got to the point where they were taking the piss,” said one source familiar with Raw Recruitment’s operations. “This was meant to be about getting young Aboriginal kids into proper jobs and when you looked around it was mostly white blokes wearing the Raw jackets.”
Raw Recruitment’s managing director, Allan Jones, has said in a statement that a small number of employees have been stood down while investigations continue.
The federal government has also had significant dealings with the company. In 2017 Raw Recruitment received a $530,000 grant from the Prime Minister’s Department, and the federal government’s National Indigenous Australians Agency is now investigating the Commonwealth’s financial dealings with the company.
“NIAA is aware of the Victorian government’s referral of Raw Recruitment to the Victorian Police and has been conducting an internal review of funding provided to Raw Recruitment,” a spokesman for the agency said.
Raw’s Indigenous heritage arm in South Australia has received more than $1 million from the Defence Department for consultancy work. A spokesman for Defence said Raw had delivered on its contractual obligations and was not subject to any audit.
Members of the Andrews government and some in the public service and the union movement have given strong public backing to Raw Recruitment, which has secured more than $1.5 million in grants. The company has had significant access to ministers, and Premier Daniel Andrews and former federal Labor leader Bill Shorten are two of the high-profile ALP figures to be photographed at Raw Recruitment events.
The company was established in 2014 by Jones, a South Australian Indigenous businessman, and former construction union shop steward and local football identity Christian Gaylard. Their aim was to get Indigenous young people trained in a trade and into meaningful jobs. With strong union backing, Raw Recruitment was able to place many Indigenous workers on signature Andrews government projects such as the Metro Tunnel rail link and level crossing removals.
Raw Recruitment has retained the backing of its most powerful advocate, the influential leader of the plumbers’ union Earl Setches. “Raw is referred to as ‘Earl’s company’ within ministerial offices and the public service,” said a prominent state Labor Party figure this week. “It’s a very close relationship.”
There is no suggestion Mr Setches has been involved in any wrongdoing.
Raw Recruitment’s Melbourne head office is at the union’s training centre in Brunswick and the union has an arrangement with Raw to manage its Indigenous employee relations.
The Victorian plumbers’ union has a long history of backing Indigenous apprenticeships and it runs a successful program in Broome in Western Australia where young Aboriginal people are trained and placed in jobs with top-tier companies.
Raw Recruitment has also financially supported the Victorian branch of the Labor Party-affiliated union. The union declared to the Australian Electoral Commission a $75,000 contribution before the 2018 state election.
Mr Setches declined to be interviewed but is known to be disappointed with the governance of the company.
The involvement of former Essendon AFL star Michael Long as a director of another Raw business and former world boxing champion Robbie Peden as a shareholder gave the company extra credibility and two strong mentors for Indigenous youth. There is no suggestion Mr Long or Mr Peden have engaged in or were aware of any improper activity.
The fraud investigation is not the only trouble facing Raw Recruitment and its directors. The company has also faced unfair dismissal and bullying claims from former employees, including several women. The Fair Work Commission heard the most recent case last week. Some claims have been resolved with confidential financial settlements and non-disclosure agreements signed by former female employees.
One former female employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said senior men in the company appeared to become more aggressive as more government grants and contracts flowed in.
“The more money that came in, the tighter the jeans got and the more time at the gym. Nights out at the casino. It just became an even more macho place,” she said.
Raw Recruitment said in a statement that the company’s priority was to provide a safe and inclusive work environment.
“We are unable to comment on any matters relating to former employees due to privacy obligations,” the statement said. “Raw is conducting a proactive and thorough audit of our contracts to help determine what has gone wrong. We are also establishing an independent compliance committee that will be governed by a compliance charter to strengthen and demonstrate our ongoing commitment to integrity and reporting.”
Mr Gaylard resigned as a director of Raw Recruitment in March. He remains a shareholder.
Know more? Contact Richard Baker securely at firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard Baker is a multi-award winning investigative reporter for The Age.