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Indigenous jobs program criticised -

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ELEANOR HALL: The plan by Australia's richest man, Andrew Forrest, to create 50,000 jobs for
Indigenous people in the private sector has not been warmly received by some Indigenous leaders.

Under the Australian Employment Covenant which Mr Forrest announced along with the Prime Minister
and the Cape York Institute's Noel Pearson, participating employers will employ a certain number of
trained Indigenous people each year.

The Federal Government's obligation under the deal is to provide the training. And while the idea
has received widespread support, some Indigenous leaders already involved in training and
employment say the scheme is far-fetched, unrealistic and too ambitious.

Donna Field spoke to one of those leaders, the chairman for the Foundation for Aboriginal and
Islander Research Action, Les Malezer:

LES MALEZER: It's good to see that there is an initiative to create jobs in the private sector. I
think that that's brilliant and I think that Andrew Forest from the Fortescue Metals Group should
be congratulated on that.

However it's an overly ambitious program, it's based upon falsehood. So it's like the Prime
Minister and Noel Pearson want to push a restart button and pretend that the Government has not
since 1967; so for 41 years now worked on policies and programs to implement job opportunities for
Aboriginal-Torres Strait Islander people around Australia.

There's been probably a billion or more dollars spent over those 40 years in training programs and
job outcomes. So it's very ambitious and I think it's irresponsible of the Prime Minister to
announce a scheme like this without presenting much more specifics.

For example the Government still refuses to give statistics on what the current levels of
employment for Aboriginal communities are. And behind that the reasons for the failures of the
programs in the past, and this program I would forecast will fail dramatically simply because the
Government just wants to make the same mistakes all over again.

DONNA FIELD: How ambitious is a figure of 50,000? Put that in perspective in terms of how many
people are employed in the CDEP program currently?

LES MALEZER: Well as I understand it, at its highest point, the CDEP employed about 35,000 people
around Australia. And I think at the same time there was less than 30,000 people employed in the
public service and I think less that 20,000 people employed in the private sector.

So to talk about creating all of a sudden 50,000 additional jobs for Aboriginal people is far
beyond the figures that are available. Now I'm not sure of the accuracy of the figures that are
around at the moment but that's simply because the Government over a decade ago discontinued to
provide any information about the levels of Aboriginal employment and training.

DONNA FIELD: So is there a way that a program like this can work?

LES MALEZER: There's two things involved; one is that the jobs have to be available in the private
sector and what we found is that the jobs are still not there and they never have been there and
they've never been made available through training programs that the government's offered.

The private sector employment of Aboriginal people has actually shrunk rather than increased over
the last 20 years.

Secondly it's got to be also a positive initiative taken on by the Aboriginal community, that if it
does involve people having to make adjustments to their lives, to their communities and their
families in order to take up jobs then the communities have to be willing to do it.

We saw 30 years ago, NSW trying to move people from western areas of the state into Newcastle to
get jobs in the mining industries there. That failed dramatically, we've seen Queensland also
trying to move people around to get jobs; that failed dramatically also.

So it has to be a co-operative approach between Aboriginal people and government to get an outcome
and the private sector has to commit itself, in fact I think that it will never succeed in
Australia unless there is affirmative action, legislation put in place.

DONNA FIELD: You talk about affirmative action, you want legislation do you in just the public
sector? Or the private sector as well?

LES MALEZER: I think it's the private sector, the public sector has shown that it can actually
employ Aboriginal-Torres Strait Islander people, there's been a recent decline but up until the
Howard administration, the levels of Aboriginal people employed in the public sector were greater
than the percentages in the community.

So with more than I think it was more than 1.5 per cent, two per cent of people were employed in
the public sector and the targets had been met. The problem in the public sector was that
Aboriginal people were still only employed very much in the junior levels and were not employed in
senior management and higher levels in the government.

But in the private sector in fact the figures went backwards not forward on the whole thing. And of
course there was also many jobs in the community sector when community controlled organisations
where delivering services; those jobs have disappeared as well.

So the Government has created a real disaster out there and these sort of sensational headlines in
one day are not going to help the situation. As I said I've been involved personally, I mean
there's 20 years worth of studies done into employment in 1988 the government launched the
Aboriginal primate development policy.

I was a part of that and that had been after many years of policy and research to get those things
in place and then they were all abandoned in 1996. And now we're trying to go straight from CDEP to
50,000 jobs, it's just unrealistic.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Les Malezer from the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action
speaking to Donna Field in Brisbane.