James Packer’s reply to Australia’s richest man’s 50,000 Indigenous jobs target has been to pledge 500 jobs. He said:
“I’ve just read about this Andrew, at last there’s a real pathway, there’s a real way out of hell for the Aboriginal people which we see up and down our Northern Territory, Kimberley and Queensland cattle stations, which are stuck in these communities, on welfare, without jobs or any meaningful future’.”
Andrew Forrest, head of Fortescue Metals, along with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Indigenous leaders Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine, and business executive Sir Rod Eddington announced the plan at a press conference on August 3.
The plan calls on corporate Australia to create positions and the Commonwealth has agreed to provide any training needed for the workers.
Under the Australian Employment Covenant, participating employers will agree to employ a certain number of indigenous people qualified to the training-ready level.
The federal government will help out by providing short, intensive, training courses to ready participants for on-the-job training with a participating employer.
The Prime Minister said the government would turn the ambition into a detailed plan within the next 100 days, with full details to be unveiled by the end of the year.
“From the highest in the land to the employers of two or three people only, the question to me is how can I help..
I’m gratified by that and I believe this is now an idea of Australian employers, not of mine, of Australian employers whose time has come..
My direct appeal is for every employer in Australia, when the government delivers and when the Aboriginal leaders and the Aboriginals themselves deliver work mentor-ready Aboriginal people to you to employ, we ask you to step out to your major role, your major part, in breaking, at last, the Aboriginal social and monetary poverty cycle and employ these Aboriginals.”
A realistic approach is planned:
“The devil of training is boredom…A three-to-four-month short course, which is crammed with the industry details specific to that Aboriginal’s future job, is what has always been required and what the government is promising to deliver.”
The Kimberley Land Council says basic education levels among Indigenous people need to be improved if a new employment scheme is to have any chance of success. Executive director Wayne Bergman says if the plan is going to work, pre-employment training needs to start now.
“The biggest challenge is that most Aboriginal people’s numeracy and literacy levels aren’t that good and aren’t sufficient to be able to do the general mine training courses…
We need a lot of pre-training to get people ready to join the mining industry or any kind of industry…
We need to have a longer term target than two years I think, we need to establish cradle to grave strategies for employment and training..
We need to start focusing children as young as grade two and ensure that they are starting to establish the basic foundations in numeracy and literacy.”
The federal government is promising to provide the training places needed to achieve the target.
Kevin Rudd says:
“A welfare-only response to these communities is precisely the wrong way to go..
“We’ve got to get housing right, we’ve got to get education right, we’ve got to get health right but we’ve also got to get jobs right.
And that’s where corporate Australia comes in and I look forward very much to partnering with our major Australian corporations in what is their initiative.”
Noel Pearson, the director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, is part of a working group that has been set up to oversee the scheme. He says he is thrilled with the idea:
“I’ve hung around corporate Australia for a number of years, I’ve heard a lot of goodwill from people but I’ve never been actually sure about whether those doors are openable from the outside..
Andrew [Forrest] assures me – and I’m sure he’s correct about this – that these doors are there for the opening.”
Noel Pearson says the indigenous community is willing and prepared to get young people off welfare, but had never been able to create the jobs needed.
“Whether you’re in Aurukun or you’re in Hopedale, you’re out in the sticks..
We can do the welfare reform to push our people into real work. But the bit I could not ever muscle together was the work opportunity part of the jigsaw…
And so it was a complete hit to the solar plexus when Andrew proposed not a few thousand real jobs in a timeframe, but 50,000 guaranteed real jobs.”
Getting people into work was the key to closing the gap between Aboriginal Australia and the rest of the community, he said.
You get 50,000 Aboriginal mothers and fathers in the workplace, you’ve made the most decisive gain in terms of closing the gap.”
This could work – congratulations to Andrew Forrest for the vision.