Can’t see the jobs for the Forrest…

I was on Q&A last night.  I sent three questions in — on refugees, sustainability and Twiggy’s 50,000 jobs–  and was lucky enough to have one of them chosen to be read out to the panel (specifically our hero-in-Hi-Vis, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest):

Two years ago you announced with great fanfare that you would get 50,000 indigenous Australians in jobs within two years. So how’s that going? And have you thought of taking a few steps back and looking at ways of getting kids to finish high school or addressing literacy, homelessness, domestic violence and substance abuse in Aboriginal communities?

Someone on the Q&A online forum made a comment that FMG isn’t responsible for social services at stuff and that parents should be sending their kids to school.  Yes. . .  of course.

My question was aimed at pointing out at that the issue at hand isn’t one that’ll be solved by banging on about 50k theoretical jobs.

Saying you’re committed to making 50,000 jobs available doesn’t do anything to address over two centuries of racism, dispossession and structural discrimination… which is the real point of ‘closing the gap’.

Turned out the timing was great for that one because the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research @ ANU released its report into the Australian Employment Covenant yesterday (I think I sent the question in on Thursday).

As pointed out by Dr Kirrily Jordan from Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research in today’s Crikey (paywalled):

So what, exactly, did the AEC set out to achieve? Some recent reports suggest that the aim of the AEC has only been to secure 50,000 job pledges from employers. But the formal agreement between the AEC and the Commonwealth government says that the original aim included an aspiration to “secure 50,000 sustainable jobs filled by indigenous Australians”, and the AEC website lists the scheme’s first goal as the “placement of 50,000 indigenous people into work”. If the goal of the AEC related only to job pledges, then these statements are confusing at best.

On job pledges, the AEC has been very effective in securing employer commitments. To date, more than 170 employers have promised a combined total of almost 26,000 “Covenant Jobs” under the scheme. Employers are asked to informally guarantee these jobs to indigenous applicants who complete appropriate training. This could be an important contribution: it not only creates an incentive for indigenous job seekers to undertake training but also seeks to challenge the well-established pitfall in which training is offered simply for training’s sake.

I think the AEC is really great, and that Twiggy’s a tops guy for putting so much passion and energy and money behind the initiative.

The thing is… as lovely as warm & fuzzy ‘awareness’ campaigns like GenerationOne and the AEC are, aren’t we all bloody well AWARE of the problems of indigenous disadvantage in Australia?

There’s a lot more that needs to be looked at below the surface of the slick ads and shiny websites before anyone can even say they’re going to ‘close the gap’ and that message risks being drowned out by the schmick PR stuff around covenants and commitments and promises and pledges.

One thought on “Can’t see the jobs for the Forrest…

  1. Good post :)
    This is the kind of stuff I wanted to blog about while working for an indigenous corporation while living in Meekatharra, but it hasn’t happened for various reasons.

    One of the major problems out here is education. I discussed this with our chairperson, and Mags wrote about it in her Q&A blogpost too (
    Young teacher graduates come out for 1 year and then leave. They’re here mostly because of the way the education system works, not because they want to be.

    Another big issue here is the family pressure and feuding family groups. I don’t know a lot about it, but I know that most aboriginal people here have trouble with responsible jobs (like supervisor/manager) because of family related issues, and I know the local supermarket generally doesn’t hire aboriginal people because they get pressured by family to give them stuff for free etc. The local supermarket mainly employs backpackers passing through.
    Of course there are exceptions, but of course racism is also a big issue…

    Another thing is that there aren’t actually that many jobs here, the mines in the area are temporarily closed.

    Mental health. This week there have been five indigenous deaths in the Meeka/Magnet area, two of which are youth suicides, and another I believe a young person in a car crash.

    Not to mention alcohol/drugs, which I guess can fall under the mental health heading too.

    Ergh, this is partly why I haven’t blogged. To say all this properly, and research it etc…it takes time and I get too overwhelmed.

    The company I’ve been working for is doing good things, or at least has done good things for indigenous employment in the past, and has good plans (partly through the CDEP (new work for dole scheme) through Centrelink). But at the moment it has a lot of problems thanks to management issues and not being able to hire the right people. It’s hard to hire people who want to live here, and not having a lot of money to be able to pay them a competitive wage doesn’t help.
    With the experience I have (not much) and the position I’m in (admin), I can’t do more here (for now), so I’m leaving too.

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