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Launch of the Social Justice Report (2006)

Aboriginal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice


Cathy Duncan, Director of Culture and Reputation, Aboriginal Employment Strategy

Launch of the Social Justice Report

2pm, Friday 31 March 2006 Museum of Sydney

Good afternoon, as a Kamilaroi woman I would firstly like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we meet on today, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and pay my respects to Uncle Charles for his welcome and acknowledge the elders past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge Commissioner Tom Calma who was gracious enough to speak at the launch of our corporate office last year at very short notice.

The Aboriginal Employment Strategy began in Moree in 1997 as a response to one of the recommendations into the Report into Black Deaths in Custody, the report states, “The stimulation of increased Aboriginal employment in the private sector is particular difficult, but must be pursued more actively”.   So through the support of our chairperson Dick Estens and the Gwydir Valley Cotton Growers Association was developed to get more Aboriginal people working in what was the largest industry in Moree, the cotton industry.  

The AES has since 1997 grown as an organization, after Moree we opened an office in Tamworth in 2003, Dubbo in 2004 and last year an office in Glebe and Blacktown and in Maitland in the Hunter Valley and we are set to open another two offices later this year.  

We have developed a philosophy, developed corporate values to adapt to our changing environment, and to ensure we are meeting the needs of both the Aboriginal community and the business community.

I think it is important to mention that we are not a Job Network agency, people don’t come to us because they need to fulfill their mutual obligation, they come to us because they are serious about wanting a job.   Now there are some who would say that Aboriginal people, well they’re lazy, they don’t want to work.   Well that is not our experience, Aboriginal people on the whole do want to work, do want to do something with their lives, do want to get off the welfare which we know many of our communities are reliant on.   They just need the right support to get there.   In fact when we opened the Tamworth office in 2003 we had 75 people walk through our door in the first three days of opening, by the end of our first year in Tamworth we had 600 Aboriginal people register.   We opened our Blacktown office 4 months ago and have already place 60 Aboriginal people into employment.

What makes the AES different is that firstly we are a 100% Aboriginal managed organization, all of our Employment Coordinators are Aboriginal, our offices managers are all Aboriginal and our corporate office staff are all Aboriginal.   We are self determination in action, we prove that we can and should be managing our own affairs, no mission managers required thank you.

So when an Aboriginal person comes into our front door they know they are going to speak to someone who understands where they come from and that is important.

One of the key aspects of what makes the AES different to other employment agencies is the mentoring we provide, the practical support we offer to our clients.   Each jobseeker has an Employment Co-ordinator who will help manage their new job and career pathways.  

In practical terms this means we help our clients with short term transports issues, for the first two weeks of their new job we will securing a course placement such as First Aid which may be essential to you obtaining a job, we can provide you with interview support, protective clothing, or just an ear to listen too.

As the AES has 100% Aboriginal staff we understand your needs and the needs of your community.

CDEP is not an employment option, getting our people’s mindset out of the idea of the dole and welfare and the idea of work is what we need to be doing.   The problem about CDEP, as we know is that it has entrenched the idea of welfare of working maybe a couple of days a week, instead of a 5 day week, so this makes the transition from CDEP to full-time employment more of a challenge for Aboriginal people.   This mindset needs to change.

Capacity building is a concept that all government agencies love using when it comes to Aboriginal communities but in my mind there is not always a lot of success.

The transferring is skills in a community, well the best form of capacity of course is getting someone in a job so they can gain skills, gain knowledge, gain experience.   We gain opportunity, we change our own destiny.

There are two programs which we operate through the AES which we think are important to capacity building, important to ensuring we are part of building a base of skills and knowledge in our communities, the focus for these programs is our young people.

The population of non-Indigenous Australians is an aging one.   As many of us would know it is the reverse for Indigenous people, our population is young.   50% of our people are under 25, and 30% of that is under 18 years old.

So as much as we know there are significant problems within our communities, we do have an enormous opportunity through our young people to change our communities, to move our communities forward, to create a sustainable future.

AES security program (lost warrior) Concept from Moree

The first program which we are having a lot of success with is our School Based Traineeship, a program that we developed in 2003 out of the Moree and Tamworth offices.

The School Based Traineeship or SBT is a program we operate in partnership with the ANZ and Commonwealth Banks.   It involves high school students completing a two year traineeship in Business Administration.

At the end of year 10 student apply through the AES to be part of the SBT, if they are successful they complete a total of 1600 hours, 1300 hours of that is on the job and 300 hours is training.   The students then begin working at the bank from one day a week at the beginning of term 4 year 10 and through the holidays up to the beginning of year 11 and their HSC.

So the students work at the bank 1 day a week, earning $12.00 per hour, now that is $4 over the award, possibly even more given today’s environment.   They spend 3 and a half days at school and 1 day in training, normally through TAFE.

The students have to stay at school to stay in the traineeship, so after the two years they will get a Certificate 2 in Business Administration, they would have completed their HSC and on most case they have a job to go to once they complete school.

Now as you can imagine there are so many benefits to the School Based Traineeship Program, not only do the students earn money and finish school but they learn those skills important to understanding the workplace, they have learnt what it means to get up go to work and familiarise themselves with the culture of work.  

The banks benefit also, they get an employee who will work the holidays to cover the shifts of other workers, who are predominantly middle age woman who want school holidays off to spend with their children.   They are investing in the local communities and engaging all sectors of the community.

We currently have 30 SBT working in banks in North West NSW, in towns like Moree, Dubbo, Quirindi and Gunnedah in places where the culture of welfare with Aboriginal people goes back several generations.   Six SBT’s graduated last year, of these 5 still work in the banking industry and 1 is studying a Bachelor of Business at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Give example of one.

We are pretty excited about the potential of the SBT program, by the end of this year we intend on expanding this program to have over 100 SBT’s across NSW with the ANZ and the Commonwealth Banks and we have also got the National Australia Bank and Westpac on board.

We have had enormous support from the banks, the CEO of the ANZ John McFarlane has come to our office, he has been out to Moree and wants Aboriginal people working in every bank in Australia, the CEO of Woolworths Roger Corbett has seen what we have done in Moree and we are working with them in Sydney, the CEO of McDonalds is also on board.

Now my point to all this top end of town name dropping is that big business wants to work with Aboriginal people.    When we come knocking they do not close the door on our faces, they want to work with us to improve Aboriginal employment, there is a enormous amount of goodwill, a genuine commitment to not only do something about Aboriginal employment but do it properly.   The AES is the vehicle for them; we provide them with a link to the Aboriginal community.

Working with the corporate sector, or with any ‘mainstream’ business does present challenges for both Aboriginal people and the employer and part of the role of our employment coordinators to work with the employee and business to work through these issues.

For many of our clients it could be the first time they have ever had a job, quite often their parents and their grandparents never worked.

There is a lack of cultural awareness in many businesses, especially as many of our businesses have never employed an Aboriginal person before, for the employee they may be the only ‘black face’ at work.    This is relevant for funerals when Aboriginal people need time off to be with their family, not all businesses are as understanding as others and in regional areas such as Moree or Tamworth if your working in the agricultural industry and it’s harvest time, taking several days off to go to a funeral is not on.

There are also the challenges Aboriginal face from their own people, someone who has decided to as one of our posters say, “Leave the mob, get a job”, may get labeled a ’coconut’ or asked, “do you think your too good for us”.   So part of what the AES is about is to build the community not just the individual, because we recognize it is harder for someone we have placed in a job to stay in the job if they are going home to a community or family still on welfare, the peer pressure and pull to be like them will be strong.   Sitting around drinking or with an idle mind, boredom can lead to destruction

Many businesses expect that if they are going to employ an Aboriginal person they will get a grant or subsidy from the government, we call this a ‘bounty’.   We are not interested in working with business that will only employ an Aboriginal person because they will get money from the government, because once they get their money the Aboriginal person is out the door.

There would also be a view among the business community that Aboriginal people don’t have the business acumen or governance skills to work in the private sector.   Unfortunately when we look at the state of many of land councils and some of our Aboriginal organizations it is difficult to counter this view.

Which is why it is important for the AES to succeed as a 100% Aboriginal operated business?   We are a business not a community organisation, each of our offices is located in the main street of town for all to see, not in the back streets, no more blacks to the back.

Challenges ahead for the AES

The AES is growing and we face many challenges as we grow, our most significant challenge is our relationship with the Australian Government.   The bureaucracy in Canberra has had difficulty with us from the beginning, if it wasn’t through the support of former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson.  The idea that Aboriginal people should be managing Aboriginal employment and not Job Networks agencies, most of who don’t even come close to matching the results we have got is one that has been hard to grasp for some in Canberra, but we are working through these issues.

The Aboriginal communities themselves present challenges, and each office operates in a community with different needs and challenges.    But we have to change the idea that being on welfare is better than having a job and hopefully the changes that are being proposed to CDEP will assist in that but whether Job network agencie s.

The AES is excited about our future, we are excited about the results we are getting for our people and that we continue to get, the private sector is behind us, backing the need to get more Aboriginal people into jobs and it seems we cannot grow quick enough for them.

Our future is work, not welfare.