I rise to acknowledge the very special work that is done by corporate Australia in assisting government to get one of our major priorities for Indigenous affairs underway. Our priorities are getting kids to school, getting adults into work and providing for safer communities. I would like to acknowledge how the corporate sector is quietly but surely taking a very important leadership role on the second of these priority policy areas.
Recently I spoke in this chamber about the need to recognise that Indigenous families share the same aspirations as every family. We all hope that our
sons and daughters achieve a fantastic future for themselves and, of course, for future generations. We do need results. Unfortunately, indicators have shown that outcomes simply have not improved and, in some areas, are getting worse. We need a new way to work with Indigenous people so they can engage with the economy to break out of the spiral of poverty, neglect and marginalisation. Sadly, the employment rate for Aboriginal and Islander Australians has gone backwards over the last six years. So it is of some urgency that we do something to reverse this trend and the corrosive effects of welfare that go with that. The people who can assist us most are, of course, the employers and corporate Australia. They are the ones who create demand for Aboriginal and Islander workers.
I would like to acknowledge the work of Andrew Forrest of Fortescue Metals Group. He established the Australian Employment Covenant, an industry led
initiative that attracted over 60,000 job pledges from 338 employers. Over 15,000 of these jobs have been filled. This is a real breakthrough. A lesson learned through the covenant is that we need a demand-driven approach where the employer provides the job and the job seeker is trained. The sad thing is that too often the job seeker is trained with no job guarantee at the end —and, in fact, no real connection to the job. The days of training for training’s sake need to end.
Aboriginal and Islander people in FMG comprise some 12.5 per cent of the permanent, long-term, fully employed workforce. Andrew Forrest’s groups
also work with the Indigenous Construction Resource Group. This is an Indigenous focused mine services company that has developed an extensive Indigenous labour network across Australia. It has grown at a stellar rate, with more than $50 million in contracts in 2013. This is a fantastic initiative getting into the services industry and mining, which everyone in the business world would acknowledge is the place to be if you are growing small to medium enterprises.
The government in its election platform committed $45 million to create job opportunities for up to 5,000 Indigenous Australians under the GenerationOne
demand-driven employment model. The model, based on Mr Forrest’s vocational training and employment centres, will ensure that Aboriginal and Islander
trainees receive practical training, with a job guarantee when they are skilled up.
The Business Council of Australia is another organisation that is doing a fantastic job, as are all of its members, working with larger corporations
to provide Aboriginal and Islander Australians with meaningful work opportunities. In the last 12 months alone, their members placed 3,500 Aboriginal and
Islander people in jobs and traineeships. The Business Council members have a total Indigenous workforce of just over 20,000 people. Members have provided $2billion for Indigenous business contracts. That is $2billion worth of contracts for Indigenous businesses. They also have a number of joint ventures and, on top of that, have contributed over 100,000 hours on a pro bono basis. That is all in the last 12 months. It shows that there is so much goodwill out there, and it is being harnessed in a very positive way. I congratulate Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott and the Indigenous Engagement Taskforce for all your work in supporting your members and achieving this marvellous outcome.
Some of Australia’s best known companies are engaged—Woolworths, for example. It is possibly not well known that it is possibly the biggest employer of
Indigenous Australians, with around 2,800 Indigenous employees. Coles is another major player putting in a substantial effort. They have invested in six
Indigenous employment coordinators to drive their commitment, and I know the numbers of Aboriginal and Islander employees are growing rapidly. All four of our major banks are doing an outstanding job taking on hundreds of school based trainees every year and converting them into ongoing employees. The Commonwealth Bank has established an Indigenous customer assistance line to service remote Aboriginal clients. It was a great innovation of the bank, and I know the other banks are starting to talk in the same area and will shortly follow suit. Transfield, another great Australian company, has brought their Indigenous employment numbers up to 4.5 per cent of their workforce. This is an outstanding result, and they need to be commended. And there are many others.
Recently I visited the CopperChem mine at Cloncurry in Queensland. The project is committed to local Aboriginal employment and community development. It is an incredible change. Instead of fly-in-fly-out workers, which is the convention at almost every mine we see in Australia, they have decided that they are going to invest in local Aboriginal and Islander workers. The mine has a purpose-built training facility which provides training to new recruits who have a guaranteed job on the mine when they graduate. It was fantastic to meet Scott Seymour, who runs the store at the mine site—a real character and well known around the area. He had nothing but praise for CopperChem. He said that, basically, they give everyone a fair go; if you want to have a crack, you will get a job.
There are many other examples at the local level where Aboriginal and Islander Australians are creating their own business opportunities. I was lucky enough, whilst visiting Camooweal in Western Queensland, to visit the Myuma training program. It has reached an impressive milestone this year: it has increased its intake fivefold since it first began in 2006. This is a program that has been equipping young men and women, mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds, to get them ready for work in 10 weeks.
Colin Saltmere is an outstanding Australian and a very proud Queenslander who I think has shown the way. I know there are those from other parts of this chamber who would know about his work and the work of his organisation. He runs a commercial business. He focuses on the employer. Without their vacancies and his constant pressure for them, he would not have a business model. Graduates from this model program are able to start work with CopperChem, as rangers based in Mount Isa or Longreach or with any of the other employers. They are looking for work-ready
people. When you visit his facility, the rangers are on one side in the morning, checking out all the cars and doing their rangering things. There are a bunch of mining trainees taking off to the quarry to have on-thejob experiential training, which is very valuable. He needs to be commended.
I congratulate the visionaries, including the many I have not named, who go about their work without acknowledgement. I urge all Australians to play their part by taking action in their sphere of influence to further engage Aboriginal men and women in employment.
Download media release:
2013-12-12 corporate indigenous employment.pdf