Improving Indigenous employment in remote Australia

Executive Chairman of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce speaks on the Budget and on employment in remote Australia

In a speech in Darwin this morning, the Executive Chairman of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, spoke about improving employment outcomes in remote Australia.

The full speech is available here.

Key points:

photo by @dannynitv

  • There are two principal barriers to employment in remote Indigenous communities – the civic structure in these areas that prevents commerce and private land ownership and a lack of social stability in many remote Indigenous communities. Social stability means safe and functioning communities where laws are respected, children go to school, there’s adequate and habitable housing, adults are job-ready, literate and numerate and so on. Social stability is one of the conditions necessary for commerce and investment.
  • There has been real momentum to address these barriers in recent years including  through community led initiatives such as Alcohol Management Plans, initiatives to transform remote schools & school attendance and progress towards private land ownership.
  • There is a desire for change and it’s the communities who are demanding it. They know that without eliminating the high levels of unemployment and welfare dependence in remote Indigenous communities those communities will struggle to survive.
  • Two things that are not barriers to employment in remote Australia are remoteness and traditional culture.
  • You hear people say there are no jobs in remote Indigenous communities. This is a myth. There is work to be done in remote communities like everywhere else. It’s true there aren’t enough jobs in remote areas. But it wouldn’t matter even if there were – because the jobs that do exist are mostly done by people from outside the community or not at all. And that’s the problem.
  • Every remote Indigenous community should do a stocktake of all the jobs that exist in the community, who is currently employed to do them and what qualifications and skills are required for those roles. Also write down all the things that aren’t being done.
  • From there sketch out a realistic plan for how long it would take and what would be required for most of those jobs to be filled by locals, based on how long it takes to skill and train a person for each role and the level of job readiness in the community.
  • It may take many years before there is a local person is qualified for a local job. That’s ok. The important thing is there is a pathway. Obviously in this process hurdles and challenges to employment will be identified. And the plan can also set out what needs to happen for locals to be able to take on local jobs.
  • Elders, council members, community workers and leaders can do this exercise for their communities today. They can start drawing up plans for how to get locals into local jobs today.  And with the implementation of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and the Remote Community Advancement Network by the Federal Government there will be ready ears and willing hands to help them achieve this and whose KPIs require it.
  • The new Federal Government is also genuinely committed to developing Australia’s North and it has commissioned the Northern Development Review which will be completed during this year. Free trade agreements with Japan, Korea and probably China enhance opportunities in Australia’s North. The region sits at the doorstop of the fastest growing region in the world.
  • Australia also has huge opportunities for growth in the agricultural, mining and other industries in the North and North West which has vast tracts of undeveloped land positioned right on the doorstep of the fastest growing region in the world. and the secondary industries that flow from these developments. For the traditional owners of these lands this presents enormous opportunities.
  • Another misconception is that traditional Indigenous culture is a barrier to employment.
  • Traditional Indigenous communities revolved around two things – family and work.
  • Family was the centre of traditional communities which were structured around kinship systems. Family relationships defined who you were, who you could marry, where you lived and your responsibilities to the community and the environment. And it was the kinship system that operated as a built-in welfare system for those who were orphaned, widowed or dependent.
  • In traditional communities everybody kept busy for most of their waking hours – hunting and gathering food; caring for children and elders; constructing weapons, implements, instruments, traps, shelter, boats; educating children through ceremony, songlines and stories; managing the land. Being idle was not a part of these communities.
  • In traditional communities, people didn’t drop everything for weeks on end to attend funerals. There was no refrigeration and they couldn’t communicate or travel quickly over large distances. People couldn’t just stop working during the mourning period either. They had to eat, children had to be cared for, physical work had to be done.
  • This work ethic remained part of Indigenous communities after British colonisation too. Aboriginal people worked – both in their traditional ways and for the whiteman
  • Today we attach “culture” to things that are the opposite of traditional community values, thing like incarceration and welfare which are barriers to work and destroyers of family.  Cultural programs in prison are examples of modern Western attitudes to prisoner rehabilitation. A diversionary programs that put offenders into work would be truly aligned with traditional cultural values. Inter-generational welfare dependence enabled by government isn’t traditional Indigenous culture – it’s a modern Western phenomenon.
  • Humbugging is not cultural. The practice of sharing resources worked because everyone had something to share; people were obliged to give because everyone had something to contribute. These aspects of culture weren’t about taking from others. They were about taking responsibility for others.
  • These values have been being slowly weeded out of Indigenous communities over past decades. This is both as a result of the social dysfunction that has developed from chronic welfare dependence and as a result of some programs and initiatives intended to fix it. There are also people who wrongly use traditional culture as a cause of or excuse for bad behaviour.
  • When people in remote communities really apply traditional cultural values the results can be transformative. eg APN Cape York which is a cattle station run by 4 Wik clans and the work that has been done by the Yolngu nation in education and “both-ways” learning.
  • Traditional culture is aligned with going to school, getting a job, taking responsibility for your family, community, environment and for yourself. Culture is an enabler for education and employment in remote Indigenous communities. There can be nothing more cultural and rewarding then getting a job, feeding, clothing and housing your family and being a role model for your community.

In the speech Mundine, who is also the Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, also spoke about the 2014 Budget and the cuts to Indigenous funding. He said that:

  • The Budget contained a 4.5% reduction in the Indigenous affairs portfolio which was less that he or the Indigenous Advisory Council expected. The Government has preserved 95.5% of the budget which still provides substantial scope for reinvestment and refocus.
  • This Government’s policy on Indigenous affairs can be summed up very simply: deliver outcomes jobs, education and making communities safer. These are the three outcome areas endorsed by the Council and the three pillars on which the Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy is built.
  • The Indigenous Advancement Strategy will be administered through five program areas run out of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet.

1. Jobs, Land and the Economy
2. Children and Schooling
3. Safety and Wellbeing
4. Culture and Capability
5. Remote Australia Strategies

  • Previously, Indigenous policy was administered through 150 areas run out of 8 different agencies. So this will be reduced to 5 areas run out of one Department.
  • This consolidation will deliver $534 million in savings. Minister Scullion has told  the Senate that most of these savings will come from cutting red tape and bureaucracy. Scullion has described the current administration structure as a bureaucratic mess.
  • The IAC welcomes the new Indigenous Advancement Strategy and the $4.8 billion investment the Government will make into this Strategy over the next four years. It believes the Strategy is a real opportunity to better target spending, focus on outcomes, and ensure better delivery on the ground in the key areas of education, jobs and making communities safer.  The IAC’s focus will be to continue to push for required savings to be found through reducing costs of administration.
  • Over the transition period to the new Strategy, providers of services to Indigenous people and communities should identify how they are delivering outcomes in jobs, education and making communities safer. How many people have they got into jobs? How do they foster Indigenous business? How many children are they getting to school? How are they improving education outcomes? How are they improving wellbeing? And so on.
  • It’s not a good enough answer to point to the organisation’s policies or objectives or the meetings or conferences people have attended or the publications or information they have published. They need to be pointing to the results and outcomes on the ground for Indigenous people.
  • The new Strategy has a much more targeted focus. Initiatives and programs that sit outside the Strategy are unlikely to get new funding, even if they’re meeting their targets.
  • The Strategy will be supported by a new Remote Community Advancement Network accountable for delivering results on the ground. It will engage directly with communities to identify and implement local solutions. Its Director and Deputy Director will have KPIs linked to measurable outcomes in things like school attendance, employment and economic outcomes.



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  1. Richard Downs says:

    I agree with Warren there are so many jobs out on remote areas and communities.
    the major barrier and stumbling block is Centre-link welfare hand out system and payment which is the greatest obstacle to getting our people into training and work force. its very much easier to drop out and get back on center-link.
    We need to marry the Centre-link payment system into work for the dole programs, so each person on community is doing 4 hours a day on community clean up programs or are into employment, training, assisting at schools, adult education programs etc

  2. Susie Roberts (Stevenson) says:

    I would love to be able to acquire further work in any of these communities!

    I have 25 years professional administration & accounts experience. Am mature with an open young mind, dedicated & exceptionally hard working. Am able to relocate from Far North Queensland at short notice.

    I see advertisements seeking workers – but nothing definite on any website.

    Any suggestions where I could find “positive openings” where I can make a difference please?

    Kind regards
    Susie Roberts

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