Friday, March 12, 2010

Generation One, Andrew Forrest and Aboriginal jobs

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. 



Anonymous said...

beclieniI believe yoouare going to have a chat tonight on true reconcilliation. Well how about an honest chat and tell the country hat the Aboriginies really get, Us whites don't get sales tax relief, all school excurtions free, massive rent relief, rego and car costs reduced, special no hassle forms at centrlink, free busto school and free child mminding after school, special level of exams at school, how about we really stop the problem with the underprivelaged and give all the whites the same benefits and handouts as you give the blacks. That would go a long way to rmoving the stigma between blacks and whites

Anonymous said...

I am an Aboriginal person and I was not aware that I could get my car costs reduced-please tell me how I go about getting this!!!! The school I work at provides free excursions to all students, all the students at this school sit the same exams and there is no bus. Students have to walk 1.5km in 45 degree heat during summer. I am not aware of any sales tax relief. Would love to know where you get your information from!!!!

Jim Belshaw said...

Anon one, you obviously feel strongly. I agree that there are some areas where an Aboriginal person can receive additional benefits as compared to an exactly equivalent non-Aboriginal person, although the list is not like yours. An example in NSW is exemption from TAFE fees. However, they have also experienced things and faced (face) restrictions that the equivalent non-Aboriginal person does not.

Anon two, its is very hard to break perceptions such as those put forward by anon one. They have to be dealt with on the facts as you have tried to do.

Take, as an example, the question of massive rent relief. In NSW on the old missions and reserves, some of the LALCs charge very low rents, a problem in itself because it makes it difficult to pay for maintenance. As a consequence, many of the houses have been badly maintained. So lower rent, lower quality. For social housing as a whole, the same rent policy applies to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal tenenats. There is no massive rent subsidy.

Bryan Scandrett said...

Once again, the discussion is hijacked by the misinformed touting a "blame the blacks" line.
I'm starting to wonder the gov't has a flock of what the chinese call "fifty centers." People paid 50c/post to tow the gov't agenda, online and subvert popular movements. And ditching the sovierenty movement is gov't agenda.
It's so persistent by so few in so many places.

Bryan Scandrett said...

And I don't care what they get, they deserve it. They paid way too much for it and they're never going to get everything they deserve.

Jim Belshaw said...

Bryan, its a bit difficult to respond because I am not quite sure where you are coming from.

tracy said...

as if you could trust andrew forrest to do the right thing by aboriginal peoples. my partner has worked for quite a few of those mining cowboys and it's not as rosy as the media or governments like to have you believe. alot of people are used as labrourers and hired with the promise of promotion but it never happens. there is always dramas with pays and the wage structures are constantly changing. with these and other rorts going on i cannot imagine for one minute forrest has his heart in the right place in regards to aboriginal peoples. my partner is white and is being exploited while the likes of forrest just keep on getting richer and richer and more powerful.

Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting perspective, Tracy. I do give Mr Forrest more credit than you in this case, but I'm not sure just what the actual results were. Too big a gap between the big end of twon and on-ground realities.

Unknown said...

Jim Belshaw said...

Sadly, JS, vimeo took it down bwforw I could view it!

Unknown said...

Aboriginal Jobs Go indigenous provides diversity and indigenous employment we help career minded individuals looking for employment and careers in all communities, locally and nationwide. Find the best people across a wide range of First Nations jobs in all disciplines, this is where to find them.