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.

The one about reconciliation [indigenous affairs]

There are lots of serious things going on right now.  Like the economy crumbling and @TurnbullMalcolm threatening to take away my Rudd-given right to buy shoes and makeup with my $950 stimulus payment.

But I just wanted to take everyone back to that whole indigenous affairs thing — you know, the blackfellas you avoid at the train station because you don’t want to have to give them $2 if they ask for it.  I know, I know: when shoe-shopping is at stake, there’s less impetus to think about things like human rights and sad chapters in Australian history.  But the current crises doesn’t make these other ones less important.

I don’t know why I feel so strongly about this country’s reconciliation with its indigenous people.  I am not one, and I have barely known any (I grew up in the leafy Western Suburbs of Perth, how could I have known any??).  And I might be an immigrant, but there is no common factor here other than that I’m not white.

I suppose it makes me a bit of a patronising snob that all I’ve ever had to do with this area was through the academic or legal side — stuff about representation in literature and whether the whole “Stolen Generation” was genocide and stuff. Although my mum did work with the Aboriginal Medical Service for a while.  And when we were little my dad used to tell us he was Ernie Dingo’s brother (they do both kinda look alike. Like, you know, they’re both brown).

But I really think that people don’t think enough about what happened to indigenous Australians in the past and how that might affect the way things are these days.  Maybe it’s a remnant of the Howard/Windshuttle black-armband backlash.

As much as I hoped that last year’s Sorry would change everything, I guess I always knew it wouldn’t be that easy… I guess I thought there’d be more concrete stuff happening.

Last week, Professor Mick Dodson was awarded Australian of the Year for his work to “promote  justice and reconciliation through a process of education, awareness and inclusive dialogue with all Australians.”  I hope that honour is not another empty, shallow guesture, but I certainly agree that Professor Dodson deserves the accolade (the issue, I guess, is whether the accolate is worthy of Professor Dodson).

I honestly believe that that approach is the most important aspect of the whole debate.  Ignorance breeds hate and laziness and I reckon the only way to counter hate and allow empathy and compassion (the key to solving it all) to flourish is understanding.

The December 08 – Febuary 09 issue of The Monthly, my new favourite magazine, featured an utterly amazing essay by indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu entitled “Tradition, Truth & Tomorrow” that I beg all of you to read and pass on to others.  I can’t do justice in trying to summarise or explain it (or even copy-paste a few quotes) because it must be absorbed and appreciated in its entirety.  It’s long, but please take the time to read it.  And I’d love to hear how you felt when you finished it.

If you felt anything like I did when I’d finished the last paragraph of that epic piece of writing, there might be a crazy mix of emotions — shock, sadness, anger, helplessness, humor, joy, hope… or maybe I’m just weird for feeling so strongly about the issue?

Tradition, Truth & Tomorrow
by Galarrwuy Yunupingu, The Monthly #44.