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Prime Minister asks big business to help improve Aboriginal health and welfare; Minister discusses programs to improve Indigenous communities.

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Mon day 16 April 2007

Prime Minister asks big business to help improve Aboriginal health and welfare; Minister discusses programs to improve Indigenous communities


TONY EASTLEY: The Prime Mi nister has asked all Federal Government departments to detail exactly what they're doing to breach the gap in living standards between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. 


John Howard has also written to the chief executives of the nation's top 100 companies asking them to do more to overcome Aboriginal disadvantage. 


The idea to press both business and government to step up their efforts came from Reconciliation Australia and the Business Council of Australia. 


To explain what the Government is proposing, the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough is speaking to Gillian Bradford in Canberra.  


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Mal Brough, is this an admission of failure that 10 years into your government, you have to write to your own departments and business and tell them to lift their game? 


MAL BROUGH: Far from it Gillian. I think this is a recognition that people have to keep this uppermost in their minds, and that business ... many businesspeople have spoken to me and said, "Look, we have in the past tried to employ and we have failed in the Indigenous area. And we want assistance, we want to know how to do that better." 


From a government perspective, my own department currently has about 7.5 per cent of its senior executives are Indigenous, 13.5 per cent are at a executive level employees. And the Government's total staff, Indigenous staff is in fact, more than representative of the Indigenous wider population.  


But that doesn't mean we can't and shouldn't continue to focus on the issue and to do more. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Exactly why is it that the Business Council of Australia Chairman, Michael Chaney, has written to Australia's 100 top companies and said that after 16 years of unbroken economic growth, the vast majority of Indigenous Australians still have little access to the same opportunities enjoyed by ordinary Australians? 


MAL BROUGH: Gillian, it's a bit of a double-edged sword, is that the majority of Indigenous Australians live in the cities. The majority are in jobs, in training, education. There is a distinct disadvantage and a distinct divide between those and the people in the Cape, in the Northern Territory and other remote parts of Australia. 


I too have been meeting business people around Australia one on one, asking them to put their shoulder to the wheel. There is no doubt there is a great willingness by them to do so, well demonstrated by Westpac who has worked in the Cape with the Cape York Institute and Noel Pearson for the last three years, and just committed to another three years. 


They've had 90-odd staff go through there, an equivalent of eight man years of work all on voluntary consignment up there to do what they can. Now, that doesn't mean that businesses have this uppermost in their mind, every business. 


But when you talk to people about it, they're only too willing to do so. And that's what Michael Chaney was about, that was what the Prime Minister was about, in the same way as we have the National Seniors, the grey nomads, now committed to go out and working in the communities with practical reconciliation, this is another demonstration using the big end of town. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: How much responsibility does the Government have to take given it is your catchcry, "practical reconciliation", that's still 10 years into your government, you're addressing these problems that seem to be at the beginning of the chain? 


MAL BROUGH: Well, the very simple answer is that because of the fact that ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) was in place for the majority of that time, quite frankly, the Government's direction was hamstrung because everything went through an organisation that has been proven to be not only ineffective but it's also been proven in many cases to have been corrupt and inept. 


Now, with the demise of ATSIC, we are moving in extraordinary ways in which to address these issues. Last week in Hopevale, I was up there with Noel Pearson, we have set forward a plan that the people of Hopevale can actually employ people, commence businesses and actually own their own homes.  


In places like Wadeye, for the first time next month, we'll be out there with business ... with people actually owning their own homes on their own land, and as a result people have got a new energy. We're doing the same in the Tiwis, we're talking to people in Galiwinku. This is a new direction and it's based on land reform because without that you can't have business. 


So, there's a huge amount of energy coming out of the Indigenous community, feeling that there is a change in the air and the Commonwealth Government is a key player in driving that, along with business and along with Indigenous people on the ground, all in partnership. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Mal Brough, thanks for talking to AM


MAL BROUGH: Thanks Gillian. 


TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough, speaking with Gillian Bradford.