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Dreamtime at the G - Richmond Football Club Chairman's Dinner: speech, Melbourne.

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The Hon Brendan O'Connor

Minister for Employment Participation 23 May, 2009


Dreamtime at the G - Richmond Football Club Chairman’s Dinner

Melbourne Cricket Ground

Saturday 23 May

It’s great to be here tonight and to join you all for what is a highlight on the AFL calendar - the ‘Dreamtime at the G’ match.

But before I talk about why we are here tonight, I would like to tell you how I was introduced to Aussie Rules.

Unlike the current 82 Indigenous players in the AFL, whose forefathers helped form the sport with Marn Grook, my family stepped on to Australian shores after a three month boat journey in 1968, and I as a six year old, had to be first introduced to this great game.

Australia was then, and still remains, a land of opportunity, prosperity - and sport.

I can still remember the first time I saw this game being played at school, with an oval and not a round ball, and wondering, how the hell did the kids manage to bounce it and catch it while running flat out?

And with no family footy team to speak of, my siblings and I picked one each. My sister picked Collingwood, My older brother, Melbourne, I picked the Saints and you’ll be happy to know my brother, Brian, who is here today, picked the Tigers!!

I remember vividly the 1971 Grand Final. Our shot for a second flag! Peter Hudson missing the chance to eclipse Bob Pratt’s record of 150 goals in a season, blamed on an earlier innocent bump from Cowboy Neale, as I recall.

And of course there was another disaster in 1997! But we’re looking good this year!!

But as every Saints supporter knows it is a life of hopes and heartbreaks!

And so after 41 years I’m still waiting for the big win in September, but what was never in question was that my family would embrace this game as much as we embraced this country!

Australian Rules is a sport that transcends all cultures, all backgrounds.

Of course, sport has long been used as a vehicle to raise an important issue or to make a statement.

Australian runner and silver medallist, Peter Norman standing beside US medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos, when they raised their fists above their heads in a gesture to highlight entrenched racism in the United States in 1968.

In a similar vein and in a local context, who can forget Nicky Winmar at Victoria Park in 1993 season, when he responded defiantly to racist taunts?

While the image of Cathy Freeman running a victory lap after winning the Gold medal in Sydney, holding both the Australian and Aboriginal flags, was both a bold and unifying moment.

And so it is here, on the hallowed turf of the ‘G’ five years ago, the AFL made it’s statement - recognising the contributions that Indigenous players have made to the game.

Aussie Rules is part of our national identity and has become a showcase for Indigenous achievement.

Although only 2.5 per cent of our population, Indigenous Australians account for a staggering 11 percent of our AFL players. In 2007, Indigenous players made up a whopping 25 per cent of the national draft!

There is no doubt in my mind that Indigenous players have changed the way the game is played at the elite level.

But importantly, they have changed the way we think about the possible and the impossible.

And it’s this way of thinking which is behind the Rudd Government teaming up with the AFL and other bodies, to raise the employment and education levels of Indigenous people.

In June last year Federal funding of $6.75 million was approved for the Richmond Football Club to construct the Australian Institute for Indigenous Learning and Skills Development.

This partnership was furthered this week when I announced funding of $581,000 for seven indigenous program coordinators in each of the AFL’s state affiliate leagues.

While tonight I am delighted to announce an initiative to further the media careers of up to 60 indigenous Australians through indigenous radio broadcasting.

This will provide a career pathway for current AFL players seeking a career when their playing days are behind them

These projects are all part of the Government’s commitment to closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in six key areas, including health, infant mortality, life expectancy, education and employment outcomes.

These are the concrete steps spoken of by the Prime Minister when he made his historic Apology to the Stolen Generations on the first day of Parliament in 2007.

Tonight I want to focus on halving the gap in employment outcomes for Indigenous people within a decade. That means an extra 100 000 Indigenous Australians finding a job and keeping a job.

The current unemployment rate is about three times higher than the rest of the population. This is not good enough and we don’t accept it.

So how are we setting about closing this gap?

Firstly the Government has reformed CDEP and the Indigenous Employment Programs.

From 1 July, we will invest $764 million in employment programs that will see Indigenous communities, organisations and individuals unite to get the best solutions for Indigenous people in their communities.

These changes also will provide better support for businesses who want to employ Indigenous workers as well as encourage and help Indigenous Australians who want to set up their own business.

Secondly, the Government working directly with indigenous communities and the likes of Rio Tinto, BHP, QANTAS and NAB, will provide better opportunities for indigenous jobseeker.

We are also working with the Australian Employment Covenant — the AEC — a national, industry-led initiative that aims to place Indigenous Australians into jobs. And help them keep their job.

Under the Covenant, as is the case with individual employers generally, where Indigenous Australians are offered employment the Government will provide pre-employment training and on-the job mentoring.

Our partnership with organisations like the AFL will improve the employment and education outcomes of Indigenous people.

Earlier this week, I was delighted to join AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou when he launched the league’s Indigenous Framework and Employment Strategy.

This plan aims to raise off-field Indigenous employment in AFL clubs and state affiliates by 4 per cent in three years throughout the AFL.

This is a fantastic step forward for the AFL and it’s an inspiring model for other organisations.

So I congratulate the AFL for your commitment to Indigenous employment, your partnership with Indigenous peoples, and your long term support of Indigenous communities.

So tonight, I am delighted to join with the AFL, in paying tribute to the outstanding contribution that Indigenous Australians have made to the game and beyond it.

Thank you.


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