Back in August 2008 I reported on a campaign by WA mining mandate Andrew Forrest to create 50,000 new indigenous jobs. The plan was launched just before the start of the global financial crisis, a crisis that at one stage appeared to threaten the very survival of Mr Forrest's business. I have therefore been wondering just what had happened to the original plan.
On 16 February this year, Tony Koch reported that the Australian Employment Covenant was closing in on the half way target, with the Queensland Government committing to 2,800 positions to add to the 17,000 promised by the private sector. Now in today's Australian, Drew Warne-Smith reports on the filming of a new national advertising campaign, GenerationOne, to reinforce the campaign.
Funded by Andrew Forrest, James Packer and Kerry Stokes to the tune of reported $A2 million each with support from other business leaders, the campaign aims to motivate the public to take practical action in helping to end indigenous disparity. The advertisement feature Aboriginal young people and are directed Warwick Thornton, whose debut feature film Samson & Delilah won the Camera d'Or for best first film in Cannes last year.
To be launched by the Prime Minister, the campaign will include an interactive website and a 23-stop national roadshow. The TV commercial itself will go to air on March 20 and is, according to the Drew Warne-Smith report, a stark, pared-back recitation of the facts of indigenous existence in this country.
In considering Mr Forrest's campaign, I think it helpful to remember that Australia's indigenous people occupy a spectrum from successful professionals and business people on one side through to people suffering extreme social deprivation at the other end. As Joe Lane constantly and correctly points out, success in Aboriginal education means that the proportion of Aboriginal with trade and university education is rising all the time.
I make this point because the campaign from Mr Forrest and his colleagues especially targets the most socially disadvantaged group: young people with limited education, limited or no work experience and few opportunities. In social terms, this is critical because it aims to break the recurring cycle of disadvantage. However, this is also the area where the difficulties are greatest.
In February of last year, Mr Forrest complained that the training places weren't available to support young people in the jobs already promised. I quote:
In his letter, Mr Forrest said Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations officials were not planning to provide training tailored to employers' specifications, as agreed under the covenant.
DEEWR had failed to make any changes to its training methods and was attempting to dilute the AEC to nothing more than a "job finder", he said.
That led to initial action, including $A2.2million in federal funding for James Packer's Crown Limited to train and employ 300 Aborigines at its Melbourne and Perth casinos. Now Mr Forrest has been addressing a new concern, the need for mentoring.
One of the difficulties that employers face is that the socially disadvantaged young, non-Aboriginal as well as Aboriginal, can lack the types of skills, knowledge and work disciplines taken for granted in the broader community. This leads to higher staff turnover and lower returns to the employer. Accepting that some measure of failure is inevitable, individual support such as mentoring can increase the chances of success.
In a comment on my original post, Stephen wrote:
Frankly, given the state of some of the area, even 100 jobs would be good. 10,000 would make a very substantial difference to the areas.
I have to agree with Stephen. Practical help that does at least achieve some results is good. This is the same type of issue that I dealt with in a January 2007 post, New England's Aborigines - Moree Success Story describing the work of Dick Estens in Aboriginal job creation.
In another comment on my original post, Aboriginal peoples researcher wrote:
I think the idea may have some merit, but it is still based in a colonial philosophy that aims to train and teach aboriginal peoples a different way of life. To some extent it is another assimilation policy aimed at acculturating the aboriginal people to the point where they will no longer have to be dealt with as a sovereign people.
I responded to this comment as best I could at the time. However, since then my views have shifted.
I had no idea until last year about the pressures that could be placed upon the Aboriginal young (and not so young) as they attempted to improve their position, pressures that rose with success. I have to phrase this very carefully, in part because I am still working all this through in my own mind. Further, my experience is NSW focused.
Central to these pressures is the need to find a balance between the individual and the community. At one level, this is simply the desire to retain connection to group and locality. At a second, the conflict between contributing to the community and the achievement of personal success.
Most non Aboriginal people think first of career, going where chances of success will be best. An Aboriginal person is more conflicted: do I serve my people first, even though this reduces my career chances? Further, as personal progress is made, the demands of a more collectivist society come into play: how do I tell my people or extended family that to help them conflicts with my personal and professional obligations?
These are not easy issues. I do not have answers. However, I do know that the work of people like Dick Estens or Andrew Forrest is important in giving the Aboriginal young new choices.
- Twiggy's appeal ends training hiatus The Australian, 20 Feb 2009
- Forrest halfway to jobs goal The Australian, 16 Feb 2010
- Packer's passion Herald Sun, 20 Feb 2010
- Andrew Twiggy Forrest plans to keep bright stars shining, The Australian, 12 March 2010