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Govt urged to employ Indigenous workers -

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Govt urged to employ Indigenous workers

Reporter: Murray McLaughlin

KERRY O'BRIEN: Outspoken Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson wonders why the Howard Government would
consider importing guest workers from other countries to fill unskilled labour shortages here when
there are thousands of unemployed Indigenous Australians who might be harnessed. Pearson has long
been engaged in a range of programs designed to break the classically dysfunctional cycle in his
own Cape York community and, by extension, offer hope to other depressed and welfare-dependent
communities around the country. For three months now, he's watched quietly from a distance as 16
young community members have worked as fruit pickers in South Australia's Riverland and the
Sunraysia district of northern Victoria in a pilot program supported by the Federal Government.
Murray McLaughlin joined Noel Pearson and the young workers for this report.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: This is the first full-time job that Casper Abai has ever had. If he can pick
oranges at this pace all week, he could make $1,000. 20 years old, he's from Cape York. For the
past three months, he's been fruit-picking at Waikere in South Australia's Riverland - one of 16
Indigenous young people from the Cape who are experiencing real work for the first time.

MILTON JAMES, JOB ADVISER: Some of them had behavioural problems - petrol sniffing and offending -
but what's important is that they are second or third generation welfare dependants. No experience
in their families of work. There is no work history.

WORKER #1: That means I can have the day off tomorrow then, hey?

MILTON JAMES: If you do well today, you don't think about having tomorrow off.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Milton James grew up in an orchard near here and went on to become a social
worker.

MILTON JAMES: The idea is you keep your money going up. Not up, down, up, down.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: He's worked on Cape York with these young men and has moved south with them to
oversee their introduction to the world of work.

MILTON JAMES: Prepare for the possibility that you have bad weather tomorrow, so the picking has to
stop. On Cape York, it's like a dream world up there. There is no sense of the real world. There is
no real economy.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: That dream world is Noel Pearson's country. He's the Indigenous leader on Cape
York, recently appointed by the Howard Government to advise on welfare policy.

NOEL PEARSON, FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WELFARE ADVISER: We've also got an olive grower who is interested
in taking on some of these lads.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: It's Pearson's mission to jolt young people on the Cape out of a culture of
welfare dependency, and he's down on the Riverland to check on Milton James's young charges.

NOEL PEARSON; I don't think it's healthy for young people to stew in their own dysfunctional
communities. They've got to get out and come back with some skills and come back with some
experience. I can envisage the day when these young fellas spend 9, 10 months down here and two
months back in Cape York hunting - keep their culture going, keep their family connections going,
but when they want money in their pockets, they hit the road, you know.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: In desert country around the town of Waikere, there are more than 5,000 hectares
of orchards and vineyards. Waikere has a population of 5,000, and there was some disquiet round
town when the young men from Cape York arrived.

STEPHEN WHITE, FARMER: Like small communities anywhere they are a bit unsure about new people in
town. They are a bit worried. These guys look different to the normal pickers we see in the area.
We don't normally see these people.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Stephen White is a small-time farmer at Waikere and has employed some of the
Cape York workers. He says early apprehensions have evaporated over the past three months.

STEPHEN WHITE: People are quite impressed with them. Yeah, they think they are good lads, they are
out there doing it. People will, at the end of the day, take their hat off to them if they actually
get out there and do the work. That's what they are doing.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Over the border in Victoria, there is another small group of first-time workers
from Cape York. They are picking grapes at Robinvale and here, too, they have been welcomed.

CHRIS ANDRIOLAS, FARMER: It's an exciting experiment to be involved in. There is a lot of potential
out there with the young guys.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Chris Andriolas manages the family vineyard at Robinvale. Like farmers at
Waikere, he too confronts constant labour shortages.

CHRIS ANDRIOLAS: We've got a staff here of about 18 or 20 at the moment. We could probably cater
for another 15 or 20. That's on this particular property.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: As short as labour is in this district, Chris Andriolas does not want to resort
to importing foreign labour.

NOEL PEARSON: In a place like Robinvale, thriving industry, not enough workers, they should be
supplied from within Australia, you know. If we've got a work shortage in places like Cape York and
they've got a worker shortage down here, we should provide the workers, you know.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: The orange picking trial at Waikere has thrown up some basic lessons about human
behaviour.

WORKER #2: When we first started we actually worked together as a team. There was about 10 of us
and after a while it never made any sense when we were all working together when the hard workers
worked harder and the lazier became lazier.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Casper Abai was first to split off from the group. The others soon followed and
it was then each to his own.

NOEL PEARSON: Caspar first realised that the aim in this game is to fill as many bins up in the day
as possible, you know. There is a return for that. The wider world unconsciously operates on those
principles. People who have been living on passive welfare have not been living on those
principles. And I think bringing these young people out of their communities has enabled them to
experience these principles.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: There is now competition to set new records. Each of these bins holds half a
tonne of oranges, worth $22.50 to the young picker. The young mob from Cape York is managing up to
seven bins a day each.

NOEL PEARSON: How many bins today?

MAN #3: Seven.

NOEL PEARSON: Seven bins?

MAN #3: Yep.

NOEL PEARSON: True, this is your 7th?

STEPHEN WHITE: Every week you hear how they've increased a little more each week and the excitement
that creates within the group is pretty good and special in itself.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Tim Michael is 17 years old and today he's on his way to picking four bins
before lunchtime. To Noel Pearson, Tim Michael's performance provides another lesson from this
trial.

NOEL PEARSON: Every year you have these young fellas on a Centrelink program and is making the road
to self-reliance that much harder to climb.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: So grab them early.

NOEL PEARSON: You've got to grab them instantaneously.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: What has it taught you working here?

TIM MICHAEL: It taught me how to look after yourself. When you start off at your new job or
something, you got to get money to pay for your house, all your arrangements. Got to be set out.
Just taught me a lot about how work should really be about.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Of the 16 who began this trial, a quarter have fallen off and gone back home. As
the trial nears its end, the stayers are weighing their options and many of them want to stay on.

CASPER ABAI: I want to save up. I want to get a new car. There's a couple of boys that want to get
a new car. It's basically if you work hard enough you can earn enough money and the boys could see
that they have the opportunity of staying in town here for a while.

NOEL PEARSON: The fact that they've chosen to stay on beyond the three months - they want to stay
here until the season is over. It's really underlining for me the opportunity here.