Call for overhaul in approach to Indigenous employment

Release Date: 
5 November 2013

ELEANOR HALL: Back home now and the Coalition Parliamentary Secretary in charge of reviewing Indigenous employment has invoked the US president, Barack Obama, in calling for a shift in approach on the issue.

Alan Tudge says the focus in Indigenous employment is too often on the barriers preventing people from working.

But he told Lexi Metherell that it should be on a more positive "yes we can" creed.

LEXI METHERELL: Alan Tudge, you've written today an opinion piece talking about what you say is a focus on the barriers that prevent Indigenous people from working, rather than a focus on the opportunities that are open to them. Who's erecting those barriers?

ALAN TUDGE: I think it's all of us in some respects. I think the language in relation to Indigenous employment and consequently the attitude has been about barriers that prevent people from being work ready, when, what I'm suggesting is we need to change our collective thinking to being let's focus on what people can do, rather than what people cannot do.

I'll give you one example where a remote community I visited in central Australia last year had, it was a messy community, there was rubbish everywhere. When I asked, well why couldn't a work gang be developed to clean up the community, the response was that people weren't work ready and that it was outside the guidelines, the policy guidelines, for such activity to be done.

Now, to me that needs to be addressed. A, the attitude and B, if there are any policy principles which are preventing such activity being done then we need to address that as well.

LEXI METHERELL: Isn't a large part of the problem the fact that there are not many really meaningful jobs with good career prospects for people in remote areas?

ALAN TUDGE: Some places have fewer jobs than others. And there are some Indigenous leaders, such as Noel Pearson, who argue that part of people's futures has to be a concept called orbiting, which he talks about. Where people may start their schooling and start their initial work in the community, but then orbit out to somewhere nearby and then come back and still have the connection to their home community.

LEXI METHERELL: You've said that the Coalition Government will strongly support private sector-led job initiatives for Indigenous people, such as the Australian employment covenant, which was launched by Andrew Forrest five years ago. Now that program has around 60,000 jobs pledged from private companies. But over five years, only around 12,000 of those places have been filled. I mean, can you reasonably say that that's a success?

ALAN TUDGE: It's a success. Any further Indigenous employment is a success. And there has been a considerable increase in the proportion of Indigenous people employed over the last ten or so years. But we've still got a long way to go.

LEXI METHERELL: And what's the Coalition's target for Indigenous employment?

ALAN TUDGE: We announced at the election campaign that a $45 million commitment to support the rollout of several more, what's called v-text (phonetic), which are a mechanism for training people directly into a job. And we had a target there for 5,000 additional people to be employed through that mechanism.


ALAN TUDGE: Oh, we haven't said that. We're going through the design process at the moment in terms of where they might be and what they might do and what's a realistic timeframe.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Alan Tudge, speaking to Lexi Metherell.