One of the things that disheartens me is not only the sad stories about hardship, disadvantage and disconnection in remote Indigenous communities; what is more important and what has a bigger impact on me is the way that these communities are perceived by others. I believe that the refrain of
fatalism and pessimism about Aboriginal and Islander Australians’ ability to provide a positive narrative is a great stumbling block.
Well, the naysayers may not be aware that Aboriginal and Islander people are breaking out of these negative stereotypes without anyone’s assistance. For far too long we have failed to recognise that Indigenous people have the same aspirations as everyone else. They want their children to have a good future, they want to be able to feel worthwhile and they want to make a contribution. For too long policies in this country, even if well intentioned, have deprived Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of the opportunities a lot of us take for granted.
Only last week I visited one of the most impoverished communities in Australia, which has received so much negative press for a very long time, Mutitjulu, in the Northern Territory. I discovered that in that community people were defying their detractors and are preparing to look for work by creating work opportunities rather than waiting for work to find them. The Aboriginal people in the region refer to themselves as the Anangu.
The Anangu women and men from Mutitjulu are working at the Ayers Rock Resort, and the downstream effect cannot be underestimated.
I met with Ricky Armstrong and his wife, Melissa Williamson, who moved from Amata and Fregon in South Australia to Mutitjulu to secure ‘real jobs’. The
pride of this man was evident as he said how he wanted his family to get ahead—knowing that he is doing just that. Ayers Rock Resort serves a real
purpose. It is a real commercial enterprise and needs people with skills to work there. The resort wants to employ Aboriginal Australians. A number of members of boards of large corporations get out of bed every day and have one agenda: to make money for their shareholders. Ayers Rock Resort is run with another imperative, apparently equally important, and that is the employment of Aboriginal people, particularly those from Anangu lands adjacent to the resort. The fact that this is the motivation of the resort is indicative of the great results the resort has had in engaging with Aboriginal Australians.
Ricky Armstrong works as part of the resort’s construction team, together with Darren Malbunka —I know Darren well—who comes from faraway Hermannsburg. Darren has a construction and landscape role at the resort. These people are role models for younger men and women in their
communities. They know that they are making their elders and their families proud. They are honing their skills and adding to them.
Against data showing that the employment rate for Indigenous people has declined over the last six years, what is happening at Ayers Rock Resort shows the transformation of disempowerment to hope. When the resort was purchased in 2010 only a handful of Aboriginal people were employed there. Now there are more than 200 Aboriginal people working there, and this number is increasing. They come from all over Australia to get work and training, and to connect. They tell me they also charge up their cultural batteries. The 37 people who work there are Anangu people from across the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands moving to Mutitjulu to look for work at the Rock.
There are 58 trainees undertaking either certificate II or certificate III qualifications in hospitality through its National Indigenous Training Academy, which
offers a career pathway at the resort and within the wider Australian tourism and hospitality industry. There have been 47 graduates to date. Trainees are
employed by the resort while they are undertaking their training. When they complete the course they are guaranteed a real job. There can be no more training for training’s sake. Work experience programs have also been established to give more than 30 Anangu school students from around the region workplace experience, which often leads to a traineeship at the resort. There are those who supply goods and services to the resort, including 20 local Aboriginal businesses. This will only happen through the determination of a corporation or a business. This must happen for those changes to
Businesses like Uluru Aboriginal Tours, Anangu Jobs, Maruku Arts, Warburton Glass, Ernabella Arts and Mani Mani are enriching the cultural experience. I
have experienced many of these and I can commend them to others. Ninku Tjingo from Mutitjulu is the supervisor of a group of 13 Anangu women who work in a domestic-cleaning service running all the domestic cleaning within the resort. Like any other parent, Ninku drops off her five-year-old son at primary school before going to work. Xavier Kitson, also from Mutitjulu, is one of the Anangu supervisors on the men’s landscaping team. He is looking forward to two of his granddaughters commencing traineeships at the resort in February 2014. There are also Anangu senior advisers in the management team, including Alison Hunt. Dorethea Randall holds a senior position as the Indigenous employee coordinator, and Leroy Lestor is the Anangu senior public relations officer. These significant tasks are undertaken as part of the management team.
What is so significant about these stories? People in Mutitjulu told me that this is the first time they have had real paying jobs outside the welfare system. The jobs the Anangu people hold at the resort have provided hope for the workers and for their children, who are learning an important lesson—that they can succeed and that work is not simply what someone else does but is for them as well.
Mr Koos Klein, Managing Director of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, which runs Ayers Rock Resort, was told that it would not be possible to
hire local Indigenous Australians at the resort. In the past the people of Mutitjulu were overlooked as potential workers at the resort and there was
a deep-seated conviction—one I have struck—that Anangu people would not work there as it was too big a step. How wrong they were. Mr Klein, who
has international experience in the management of some of the world’s great hotels, told me that, while the resort employs people from all over Australia,
the resort had an ‘Anangu-first policy’. Mr Klein is passionate about the employment of local Indigenous Australians. I am delighted that he is now offering
key roles in management. He told me that the resort is also exploring the possibility of cadetships and management programs.
I have been travelling around Australia, particularly Northern Australia, for a very long time. I see small movements forward, with some wellmeaning
employment engagement programs. But I am convinced the fundamental change we need in corporate Australia is to make one of the key
performance indicators of the executive to ensure we engage our First Australians in genuine jobs. When that happens, the visible changes at Ayers Rock Resort should be a well-positioned beacon for the rest of corporate Australia, showing that with the right effort and approach they too can achieve the outcomes we have seen at the resort.
I congratulate Koos Klein and all the staff at Ayers Rock Resort for doing nothing short of a magnificent job. I say to corporate Australia: hold your conferences at the Rock. They have got the most incredible conference facilities, and you have access to some of the most incredible cultural experiences. When you visit, I know that you can speak to Koos or any other people in the management and seek their advice about how your organisation or your company can go about achieving the sorts of things that have been achieved by this particular organisation. It really is time to start backing ourselves and our natural and human resources so that the rest of the world can get on with backing us too.
Corporate Australia, bring your business to the resort, allow yourself to be influenced by such a great corporate experience and ensure that as you finish your experience of the resort you not only take away part of the great spiritual centre of Australia and that wonderful cultural experience but share your experience with the rest of corporate Australia.
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2013-12-04 Ayers Rock resort adjournment speech.pdf