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Indigenous Employment Going Backwards

16 February 2015 at 10:03 am
Xavier Smerdon
The Abbott Government’s record on tackling Indigenous unemployment has been called disappointing but unsurprising.

Xavier Smerdon | 16 February 2015 at 10:03 am


Indigenous Employment Going Backwards
16 February 2015 at 10:03 am

The Abbott Government’s record on tackling Indigenous unemployment has been called disappointing but unsurprising.

The President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Ged Kearney, said budget cuts of more than half a billion dollars from Indigenous programs had haltered any progress.

Kearney said it seemed a large part of the Abbott Government’s strategy to boost Indigenous employment is Work for the Dole, which has been proven to be ineffective.

“Work for the Dole is not a pathway to on-going jobs,” Kearney said.

“Unemployed people who are placed into work experience must be paid the legal minimum wage with all of the usual conditions of employment – these programs do nothing to tackle unemployment.

“Whether in Indigenous or non-Indigenous communities – we know Work for the Dole doesn’t work.”

The Government’s own Closing the Gap report revealed that Indigenous unemployment was not being addressed properly.

“It is clear that since 2008, no progress has been made against the target to halve the gap in employment outcomes within a decade (by 2018). The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15-64 years who are employed fell from 53.8 per cent in 2008 to 47.5 per cent in 2012-13,” the report said.

“In addition to the fall in Indigenous employment, the proportion of non-Indigenous Australians who are employed rose from 75.0 per cent to 75.6 per cent. Consequently, between 2008 and 2012-13 there has been an increase of 6.9 percentage points in the employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous working age people (up from 21.2 to 28.1 percentage points).”

Kearney said Aboriginal communities have unique and locally focused solutions to engage their communities in work.

“Employment initiatives must be based on real consultation, self-determination and an understanding of the unique position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” he said.

“These communities must be involved in the development and implementation phases rather than the paternalistic, one-sized fits all approach of the Abbott Government.

“The Abbott Government slashed $534 million from Indigenous programs in last year’s budget – so the lack of progress in closing the gap is hardly surprising.

“With all of these funding cuts comes the loss of jobs for the workers who have been providing these essential services to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.”

Last week the Government released the Closing the Gap report, revealing that Australia was failing to meet many of its targets.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the results of the report proved that Australia had failed.

“We know that until Indigenous people fully participate in the life of our country, all of us are diminished. On days such as this, we should acknowledge where we have failed,” Abbott said.

“This is not because of any lack of goodwill or effort by successive Governments.

“We are trying to change entrenched and multi-generational disadvantage.

“This won’t happen overnight and it may not ever happen unless we continue to place high demands on ourselves of what we can achieve together.

“When I presented this report last year, I also noted that for every step backwards, there could be two steps forward.”

But Abbott also said that part of the onus for closing the gap would fall on Indigenous people themselves.

“Government programs can be a catalyst but success – where it is achieved – is due to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who want better for themselves,” he said.

“Governments can fund and Governments can urge but Governments can’t change attitudes and behaviours.

“It’s those who make the choice to send their children to school, those who make the choice to attend school (and stick at it), those who make the choice to get a job and stick at it and those who choose to abide by the law who are the ones closing the gap.

“Closing the Gap is not something that Canberra can do on its own. Closing the Gap is not something to be granted by this Parliament to Indigenous Australians.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said more needed to be done and agreed that funding cuts were making the situation worse.

His comments caused controversy when up to 10 Coalition members of Parliament walked out during his speech, complaining that he Shorten had abandoned the bipartisan nature of the report.

“The Closing the Gap framework stretches beyond the life of any Government, it goes further than the electoral cycle. We cannot afford for progress to ebb and flow depending upon who is in power,” Shorten said.

“This is an endeavour where every Opposition wants the Government to succeed.

“But when a Government cuts $500 million from essential services – we are compelled to point out what these cuts mean.

“Right now, a host of vital organisations don’t know whether their funding will be continued, or withdrawn.”

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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