National Employment Services Association (NESA) Conference Speech

Release Date: 
13 August 2019

Kaya Wangju. Hello and welcome.

I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting today. The Noon Wurrung and Woiwurrung or Wurundjeri peoples. I pay my respects elders past and present and those emerging.

I also acknowledge Sally Sinclair CEO of NESA and the entire NESA team. Thank you for hosting this important gathering. And thank you for the work you do in bringing together employers, job seekers and job services. If you bring to life the profound insight that is helping people find work has exponential value.

It opens a door not only to financial and economic security, but to self-determination, satisfaction and fulfillment. It has the potential to change lives in a way that few other things can.

But of course the greatest transformation happens for those who come from the place of greatest disadvantage. Not because of natural inabilities or incapacities, but because of the obstacles that life or history or society may throw them away. When we think of Indigenous Australians we need to stop thinking we're all the same, or fit into a single category. We are diverse. We live in cities and on country. We are teachers (like I was), tradespeople, doctors, lawyers, dances, chefs, footballers, tennis champions. We can be found excelling in just about any field you name.

Yet we also make up a disproportionate share of Australia's unemployed. I want to do today is look closely from my perspective, as the Minister for Indigenous Australians, at what is happening in Indigenous employment: where the needs are, where the opportunities are, and where we go from here.

So, firstly, just take a look at the employment picture where Indigenous Australians. In the most recent census data the unemployment rate for Indigenous people, at eighteen point four percent, which is nearly three times as high as for non-Indigenous people. It was higher across all age groups with the highest for young people. For those aged 15 to 24 - And remember that half of all Indigenous people are under the age of 25 - the unemployment rate is 27 percent compared with 14 percent while non-Indigenous Australians.

Whilst we made progress over the last decade there remains multiple and overlapping layers of social, cultural, geographic and economic factors that influence these rates. Many Indigenous Australians the barriers for finding a job can be numerous, complex and seemingly insurmountable.

Futility, or sense of futility is one of those measures. Location can be a barrier particularly for people in very remote areas. Limited education and training is also a barrier. Of being confident in your literacy and numeracy skills or not having the confidence to speak up. Health and Mental Health issues are equally a challenge. Overcrowded and insecure housing. Caring responsibilities particularly for the eldest daughter. Cultural legacies. Trauma that lives on through the generations.

These factors can make it much harder for some Indigenous Australians to find and keep jobs. But we're changing, I want to change that mindset and we are making progress. Recognising that Indigenous policy is need specialised support, the Morrison Government is funding an array of employment programs, tailored to their needs and strengths through the National Indigenous Australians Agency.

In terms of numbers the majority of Indigenous jobseekers use services through jobactive. In the last four years jobactive service providers achieved almost a hundred and thirty two thousand placements for Indigenous people and around a third of those turned into jobs that lasted six months. This is a critical milestone and helps lead to sustained longer term employment. It is also clear that we need to do better. And all of you in this room are part of that solution.

That is why I'm optimistic about the new employment services model that is currently being trialed in the mid-north coast of New South Wales and in Adelaide's South. This new model is being progressed by my colleague the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and family Business; Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash. This model is an opportunity to improve how we support the most disadvantaged job seekers.

There are VTECs all over Australia. Here in Melbourne, 10 VTEC-supported employees are working right now on the West Gate Tunnel Project, while doing their Certificate III in Civil Construction. We also offer tailored grants to connect people with jobs through traineeships and Cadetships. To give an example, one of the organisations we support helps Indigenous people get training and jobs in childcare and aged care. With a Tailored Assistance Employment Grant, we fund Repay Group, and now the National Apprenticeship Employment Network, to train and place 350 Indigenous jobseekers in each of these sectors.

Dylan was one of them. An Arrernte man from Alice Springs, Dylan was living in Brisbane and finding it hard to get a job in spite of his experience and enthusiasm. Then he found the Replay Group, and within a month they found him a job in a child care center and set his feet on the path to learn more. He finished his Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care and kept working. Then Replay offered him the chance to teach. He now teaches a certificate three course has helped more than 100 students to get a job in the industry. He has now set his sights on a degree and maybe even starting his own Registered Training Organisation.

Dylan's story shows the power of helping someone find their own path, and supporting him to tap into their own passion to see where it might lead. Through Indigenous-specific employment programs like these, over the past financial year more than 5500 Indigenous jobseekers have been placed in jobs, and nearly 500 young people have been supported into work or training through school based traineeships and cadet programs. As I said earlier the greatest transformation happens when there is the greatest need. But it's nowhere more true than those making the journey out of prison into a job.

The Time to Work Employment Services is a direct response to COAG's Prison to Work report in 2016. The report captured the experiences of Indigenous Australians in the prison system and pointed to a failure to join up services inside and outside.

It also captured indigenous people's own voices, and I’ll quote a few of them for you now:

"Last time I got out, my main priority was not to go back in, but how is that possible when the support ends of the prison gate?"

"How can I prove myself to you, if you're going to look at my history?"

"They go on your past. They don’t look at what changes you've made to yourself; they just go on your past."

I want to share with you an organisation in Kalgoorlie: Bega Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services. What they've done is they've adopted a 'three-R' approach. One of the 'R's' is recency. And I said what do you mean by recency? They said you've got a criminal record of an individual and if the crime is some distance between the interview and the events that occurred then we consider them, we skill them and then employ them.

What they said to me is every person that they have employed out of the prison system have remained with them, have remained loyal employees and continue to grow their knowledge and skills through professional development. And that whole concept of recency has turned it around the thinking in the Kalgoorlie region. Based on what the report found, COAG committed to creating positive pathways for Aboriginal people out of prison into work. The Time to Work services does just that. 

In 10 remote and 70 non-remote prisons, service providers give culturally appropriate support to people, starting months before they walk out of the prison gate and continuing afterwards. All of these programs use local providers and expertise. Strengthening what's already there and already working rather than reinventing the wheel.

They all have flexible funding models, and can respond to local needs on the ground, driven by local communities. This is essential in delivering sustainable solutions and they're designed to complement and work alongside mainstream employment programs. I know there are people in this room who work on the programs I've mentioned. And the time, talent and dedication you've made to creating employment pathways to Indigenous Australians is appreciated.

I also want to thank all employment services here today for the way in which you support Indigenous Australians who walk through your doors. The Community Development Program, or CDP, is our remote employment community development service, designed around the unique social and labor market conditions in remote Australia.

The CDP is for all Australians, but Indigenous Australians represent around 84 per cent of the participants in that program. CDP is about supporting job seekers to build their own skills, while they build up their communities and clear away the obstacles to their own, and to their community’s growth.

Since it began four years ago. CDP has supported remote jobseekers into more than 33,000 jobs and on more than 11,300 occasions they have stayed in the job for more than six months. Recently when I visited Derby; a number of them now work main roads. And have permanent jobs because of the skills they acquired through the Derby CDP program.

Last week I visited MEEDAC in Coolgardie and had a yarn with the CDP participants on the ground. I want to thank them for their warm welcome and the conversations we had together. All of the services I’ve mentioned relate to the supply of Indigenous workers. We also work on the demand side.

Through the government's $100 billion infrastructure spend and the Indigenous Procurement Policy, we've increased demand for Aboriginal jobseekers across a range of industries.

The IPP has been a runaway success and creates opportunities for Indigenous businesses to grow and employ more people. In its first four years, over $2 billion of goods and services have been procured from more than 1,500 Indigenous businesses. The IPP is also having an impact through our supply chain. With employment and procurement targets now mandated over 160 Commonwealth contracts, valued at $11.3 billion, including contracts awarded within the sector.

This means that more and more of Australia's largest companies will bring on more Indigenous employees as part of everyday business. And you will play an important role in helping to achieve this. These targets apply to a range of industry sectors including employment services. I would like to encourage every employer and provider in this room to look at their purchasing power, and consider how they can leverage it to build better connections with Indigenous businesses.

Yesterday in Perth we announced 'Raising the Bar' and I had the foundation members who worked with Supply Nation and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. And they gave a commitment to increasing the economic opportunity. Whilst Jennifer Westacott talked to a 3 percent increase, she went on to say that she would encourage every business in that room to strive for a target much higher, and also look at the direct employment.

It is also important that we consider how all workplaces - including the workplaces of government agencies, employers and service providers - are welcoming and safe environments for Indigenous employees. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the workforce reflects the diversity of our population. In particular we know how important it is to have Indigenous staff delivering services to Indigenous Australians, individuals, families and communities.

This ensures culturally appropriate as a service delivery remains a critical success factor in order to build towards a better future. I'm pleased to say that the 2000 of NESA's frontline workers, about 6 % of the staff identify as Indigenous. That's a strong result. I encourage you to continue your efforts in recruiting, mentoring and advancing Indigenous staff. The challenge ahead for us now; for you, for me, for the National Indigenous Australians Agency is to build on that success as we prepare for jobs of the future.

We know that Indigenous Australians are overrepresented in the lower skilled jobs. Exactly the jobs most likely to be automated. Even without the threat, they offer few opportunities for career advancement and wealth creation, especially in a globalised economy where competition drives and the price of lowest skilled workers.

That's a trend across the labor force that we have to be in a position to prepare people for. As the weight of the economy shifts towards the service sector, and increase automation pushes up the value of the high skilled jobs, Government's, employment services and training organisations must work together to help Indigenous Australians with the right skills to succeed.

An example of that is the aged care sector, where I’ve worked. 366,000 employees are employed in the aged care sector. By 2050 they will need 940,000 as a conservative figure. Early childhood education services will need around the same number. And NDIAS they were estimating 1.2 million. They are key service industries that we should be encouraging people to look at the opportunities of developing a career pathway.

But we also need to make sure services are integrated and take into account the whole person - where they are, what they want and what their lives look like. We need to have more place based initiatives that are genuinely co-designed and delivered with communities that join up employment, training, housing and other things like an entire network of support.

Partnership is critical. In my mind it's the only way to make programs work. To make sure the results they produce are sustainable. I know you partner with many groups and organisations including indigenous ones. I want to commend you for that and encourage you to keep walking and working with Indigenous Australians across this great continent or ours. To listen to their stories and histories. That their perspectives and ideas shape what you do to help them meet their aspirations. For those of you here with indigenous capability strategies in place for your organisation, I commend.

But let me reassure you that these maps for deepening cultural understanding and supporting reconciliation and they're extremely worthwhile in the future that we're heading towards. My experience is that companies have adopted reconciliation plans have made substantial commitments to engage and include indigenous staff and work with Indigenous businesses successfully. It's been tremendous to watch the corporate sector, particularly the big end of town, but also many small businesses undertake the types of commitments that wouldn't have been seen 25 years ago.

I think this has been one of the major social reforms in modern Australia that it has not been led by governments. It demonstrates the change that is possible when people are open and willing to listen, willing to do what they can, and where they are capable of doing it. We all bare responsibility and we can do more, and that includes government. To improve the lives and prospects of Indigenous Australians.

What’s good is that we are not starting from scratch. We're starting with the strengths and dreams Indigenous Australians have for themselves and their communities. I have never met an Indigenous parents who did not want their child to succeed. Who didn't want their son or daughter to get a good education and a good job, and have a healthier, happier, richer life than theirs.

I have never walked around an Indigenous community without hearing from elders and senior men and women how high hopes are for their people, the community and country. And I certainly heard that out at Garma last weekend.

They are not asking us to rewrite the past or remake the world. They're asking us to meet them where they are, to listen to them, to work alongside them and to walk with them to something that is better for their children.

I thank you for the work that you do, and I want to acknowledge the efforts you've made so far. I sincerely look forward to working and meeting with many of you over the coming three years.

Thank you.