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STANDING COMMITTEE ON EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS
14/07/2010
Regional skills relocation

CHAIR —Welcome. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Neville —The Bloodwood Tree Association is an Aboriginal organisation which deals in a number of programs for Aboriginal people in the Hedland, East Pilbara and Newman areas. I am also chairperson of the Hedland regional partnership agreement, which is a memorandum of understanding between the Minerals Council of Australia and the federal government about Indigenous employment in the mining sector and other sectors. I am also chairperson of the Pilbara Association of Non Government Organisations, which also covers not-for-profit groups. Mainly I am here today to talk about training and employment.

CHAIR —Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. I invite you to make some opening remarks.

Mr Neville —I think the Pilbara is a special place in Australia, having lived here for 40 years, but I think it is also a special place for the economies of Australia and Western Australia. One of the issues that I, the Bloodwood Tree Association and a number of other groups have been working on in the Pilbara for a number of years is local Aboriginal training and employment. In our view it has not peaked as yet.

I came before the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs committee in 2005 in relation to Aboriginal training and employment. We started off with a 47 per cent unemployment rate of Aboriginal people in the Pilbara. We have done a lot of work since then, but even with the regional partnership agreement it has been very frustrating. However, we have had successes, although small, considering the scale of the issue of unemployed Aboriginal people in the Pilbara.

Bloodwood Tree has managed to put somewhere between 90 and 100 Aboriginal people into full-time, sustainable employment each year since 2004. That has been made possible by a number of programs, one of which is the Indigenous Employment Program run through the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. However, we believe that program, as with all training and employment programs, whether they are state or federal government programs, has its failings.

I did read some of the evidence given to you and I really liked the way Professor Mitchell gave his scenario of the Job Network. I have to agree with Professor Mitchell that it has not resolved the issue of training and employment, particularly for Aboriginal people. We are looking at an area where we have got skills shortages and we are trying to bring up the skills of Aboriginal people to get them into employment. We have not done that. You have still got a lot of Aboriginal people out there who are not employed or are underemployed. We have still got a long way to go, yet we have been talking about 457 visas and shipping people from the eastern states across to the Pilbara.

The two major mining companies in the Pilbara are BHP and Rio Tinto. In my view, knowing BHP, they do a very good job and I believe Rio Tinto also do a very good job. We work with both of those companies and I say at the outset that we do have sponsorship from BHP to deliver Aboriginal training, skills and employment in Newman, which is 400 kilometres south of Port Hedland where their mine sites are. They do a good job. Fortescue Metals Group are doing a good job insofar as they are bringing on Aboriginal people. I hope that is going to be sustainable. I know the big mining companies have a lot of plans and they are prepared to invest in the Aboriginal communities and in Aboriginal people’s skills, training and employment. I believe they are finding it fairly frustrating that governments—I am talking about all governments over the years, whether they are state, federal or even local—are not doing their bit about Aboriginal skills, training and employment in the Pilbara given the unemployment rate now, which we believe is still around about 30 to 35 per cent. We have been trying to get data on that. It seems to be a fairly hard task to try and get information and data on the Pilbara and the unemployment rate, particularly on Aboriginal people, which is a shame.

It would seem to us, and to me particularly, that we do not have that concern about the Aboriginal population in the Pilbara, which I know is not true. We do have the concern, but we do not seem to understand it and we are not putting the resources in the right areas and the right places. That brings me back to Professor Mitchell and the Job Network. The Job Network is funded the same way in Sydney as it is in Port Hedland, Karratha and Newman, and it does not fit. We have had a number of politicians make the statement that one size does not fit all, but unfortunately we still get this one-size-fits-all approach.

Our forte at the Bloodwood Tree Association, through the regional partnership agreement, is really trying to break down these barriers to employment and skills training for Aboriginal people. Those barriers start off with literacy and numeracy and they start off with identification. A lot of people are not registered with Centrelink. They are not registered because they do not want to be registered with Centrelink. People need to understand why they are not registered with Centrelink. So that becomes an issue in the first place. Of course, you have got substance use issues as well. You have got drivers licence issues. Everyone takes a drivers licence for granted—you just go out and book lessons with a driving school and get one—but how many driving schools have you got in Port Hedland? We were the first to formulate a driving school in Port Hedland. At Bloodwood Tree we trained our staff to become instructors. We had Newcrest Mining and BHP support us in the driving school and give us funding to do that. That to us is a government job, but nobody would really take it on board so we are doing it.

The big one now, which you have all spoken about, is affordable housing. That is an issue. If we want to get local people and local Aboriginal people into a job, they are mostly in Homes West houses or state housing and that housing is rated at 25 per cent of their income. Their income is very minimal so they are paying anywhere between $70 and $110 a week for the rent. One of the things we did manage to get through government is a moratorium for two years once people went over the limit to be able to get out. That was four years ago. The housing situation still has not changed. When somebody gets a job, they have got to look towards renting. When you are looking at rents anywhere between $1,000 and $2,500 a week, that takes care of half or more of your salary. It is not affordable. We are pushing affordable housing as one of the projects through the regional partnership agreement and through our own organisation, Bloodwood Tree.

I did say to the last committee that was here inquiring into affordable housing in Australia that unfortunately LandCorp have been the blockage to all of that in the Pilbara. They come and say there is a shortage of land in the Pilbara, but you flew over the Pilbara and there is no shortage of land.

Mr RAMSEY —No, there is not.

Mr Neville —And let us not use native title as an excuse—because that is all we are doing. We use it as an excuse, and it is an excuse. It is the process of native title which is the issue, not native title in itself. Having said that, I know there is a lot of land available in the Pilbara and in Hedland, which I know is native title free. I have said it before and I will say again: LandCorp is the biggest blockage to releasing affordable land and affordable housing, and the escalation of prices here in the Pilbara, paying all those high rents and higher prices, have precluded a lot of people and a lot of Aboriginal people from getting in.

Mr RAMSEY —For someone who is from interstate, what is LandCorp?

Mr Neville —LandCorp is—

CHAIR —A state government agency.

Mr Neville —an organisation set up by a state—an agency. It is a profit business, if you like. It used to be part of the state government, but they put it out as a profit business. Barry will probably be able to give you more information on that. But it is there to make a profit. It is not there to release land; it is there to make a profit.

Mr RAMSEY —They release land as market demand—

Mr Neville —No. They drip-feed land to us according to what the prices are.

Mr RAMSEY —Yes. I understand exactly what you are saying. That is fine. I am sorry to interrupt but I just wanted—

Mr Neville —That is all right.

Mr HAASE —They were a state government instrumentality charged with the timely release and development of land. In the past, when Hedland and Karratha were exploding as far as the population was concerned, they frankly dropped the ball. We are pleased to say that under the current state government they seem to have a different direction, but they are involved in making a profit and feeding state Treasury—and, from a personal perspective only, that seems to be the great flaw in their system.

Mr Neville —It is a great flaw. Some of the other barriers we have with child care—and I think that was mentioned earlier, when I was here—is that it is a choice between company child care and community child care. In the Pilbara you have towns such as Tom Price, Paraburdoo and Newman, and even Dampier, which were basically mining towns at one stage. Newman was the last town that was normalised—I use that term ‘normalised’ loosely because in Newman there are no facilities and there is no infrastructure for Aboriginal people whatsoever. That is right in the middle of the Western Desert, and there are a lot of Aboriginal people around there, the Mardu people there. So there are no facilities there whatsoever. But with child care we now see—and it was an issue that was brought up through the regional partnership agreement—that BHP, through utilising the YMCA, have built one childcare centre in Hedland, to be operated by the YMCA. They are looking at building a second one in South Hedland, to be operated by the YMCA.

We also had a look at the Royalties for Regions funding which just went out the other week. Rio Tinto, the other major mining company in the Pilbara, were actually awarded a total of $3 million for the Royalties for Regions. They are royalties that come out of the mining companies and then get distributed back to them to upgrade childcare centres in their towns, in Tom Price and Paraburdoo. We are saying, ‘Do we want company infrastructure or do we want social infrastructure belonging to the community?’ It becomes a bit of an issue, because the childcare centres which are, if you like, owned or run by mining companies offer housing for their staff. Childcare workers are not paid much an hour, as per the award. I think the rate now has probably gone up a bit to $18, nearly $20, an hour. But I believe those childcare centres are paying more and they are also offering housing, so it is becoming a problem. In Hedland, we have three of what we call community controlled childcare centres for whom that is going to become an issue because they cannot afford housing for their staff.

I think you put it quite succinctly when you said that the way childcare funding was done is totally wrong and we really need to have a look at it, because what we are doing is penalising people who need child care. If we get somebody who has a child aged seven, under Centrelink rules they need to go on Job Search and look for a job. But they cannot get a job because they cannot get their child into any after-school care or any child care—particularly if they are going to work in the hospitality industry in the mining areas, where they would start work at five o’clock in the morning or they might do night shifts. There is not all that child care available to them, so getting child care becomes a bit of an impasse for them.

A lot of organisations do salary sacrifices for child care. That puts an even bigger impost because that becomes wrapped up with FBT and then just keeps going up and up and up. The federal government say you have to pay more on this and more on that. At the end of the day, I have one person with a child who is earning in excess of $50,000 a year in Hedland. She has said—and I have worked the figures out—that it is much better for her to go back to single parenting allowance than it is to have a job because her rental costs at the house go up, her childcare fees go up and all of the other benefits disappear et cetera.

So child care is a big issue. It is an issue that was put through the regional partnership agreement. It was given to the Australian government to try to resolve those issues. The issue is that we do not pay the staff enough money to run childcare centres and we do not supply housing in remote regional areas for childcare centres. Nothing has come back out of that. That issue was placed with them back in 2005 or 2006.

The other big issue, obviously, is mentoring. We need to have a lot more Indigenous mentors in the Pilbara if we are going to bring up Aboriginal people and skills train them. Mentoring is a skill. It is not just something where we can say, ‘You can be an Aboriginal mentor.’ It is a skill, and you have to learn that skill. All my staff have been through all that. My staff are certified Indigenous mentors and they are all local Aboriginal people themselves. They have been through that course plus a number of other courses, including driving instructors’ courses et cetera, to try to get Aboriginal people and train them up so we can get them into whatever industry they want to go into.

But, having said that, we do also train for jobs. We do not train for training’s sake. We have partnerships with BHP, with Rio Tinto, with the Fortescue Metals Group, with Newcrest Mining and with all the major contractors—Macmahon Leighton, Ngarda Civil and Mining et cetera. When they get intakes of trainees we then have so many months to get people traineeship ready, if you like. It is pre-pre-employment training. We get people skilled up for that. We go through all of that ID stuff, literacy and numeracy, drug and alcohol stuff, driving licence et cetera. We get them to a bare minimum entry level where we can get them in, and then the mining companies take them on board and train them up from there.

CHAIR —Bob, I am reasonably familiar with some of these arrangements with mining companies. I think most of them would describe the process as one step forward, two steps backwards or two steps forward, one step backwards, and the retention rates are not terrific. I think it is now more clear that we need to intervene much earlier and much younger with Indigenous communities. Whatever your views of Clontarf, we have seen the success of their program in retaining kids at school. The literacy and numeracy issue that you raise is huge, but I am often disappointed that there is not a recognition that it is that early intervention. Mentoring and role models, much younger, would mean that we would have a much more employable Aboriginal workforce by the time they got to 18, 19 or 20. Then I think the training associated with a job works, but if you have not put in all that work beforehand the task of your pre-employment arrangements is so huge—

Mr Neville —It is.

CHAIR —if you have someone completely disengaged, with no career aspirations, not used to being employed, not used to turning up to school every day—that sort of stuff.

Mr Neville —You are quite right. The pre-pre-employment training we do takes anywhere between 12 and 36 months to get somebody ready to get into that entry-level area where they can get into a traineeship, whether it is with a mining resource company or whether it is with hospitality services or any of those contractors that service the mining companies as well. You are quite right in that respect. It is hard work, but it is something we enjoy doing.

But also, going through all of the evidence that was given there, I found it disappointing that there was very little recognition of the fact that we have a huge Aboriginal unemployment rate not just in the Pilbara but in the whole of Australia and we are not tapping into that. One of the things that came closest to it here was when the Roebourne shire ladies mentioned the prisons. Roebourne Regional Prison is full of Aboriginal people, and we need to be able to get in there and start skills training for them so that when they come out they have jobs available as well. Rio Tinto are doing that sort of work, as are BHP, and they are very good at it. BHP, I know, are investing in the future of their communities by investing in education and health, and they are doing all that sort of work you talked about in relation to Clontarf. They are doing it for their own operations, but it is something that has to be done on a much wider scale.

CHAIR —But there is also an assumption, it seems to me, that just because an Aboriginal person is local it means they would not want to relocate somewhere else, and that is quite wrong.

Mr Neville —It is. A lot of people do, and they do it for various reasons. One of them is the unaffordability of housing here. I know there are some employees working for the mining sector that have a nice house in Perth and are flying into and out of their home country. It is a bit sad in the end that they have to leave their areas and are being replaced by fly-in fly-out employees. I am not saying that fly-in fly-out is not needed in this community; it is, because, when you get huge construction ventures like the building of two berths and the extension of a 440-kilometre railway line going from Port Hedland to Newman, there are not going to be workers available in your own community with the skills you need, so you bring them in. That is fine for those construction projects if you bring in a certain number and then bring in some of the local community to work with them so you are also training up the local community at the same time in those areas of building a wharf, laying track et cetera, so you get those skills back into that community. That happens, and that is fine. That is why we have so many fly-in fly-outs right at this moment. I suppose that if the opening up of new resources ever stops in the Pilbara, whenever that happens—we may never know; there is so much oil and gas around the place that it may never stop—then we will see a huge reduction in fly-in fly-out and the operational people living here in the Pilbara. That is why we have this Pilbara Cities project which is coming up, because that has to happen and it will happen.

CHAIR —In that Pilbara Cities project, have they addressed affordable housing as part of those—

Mr Neville —No, they have not. That is a battle I am having. That is a debate I am having as chairperson of the regional partnership agreement and of the not-for-profit groups in the Pilbara. We have had two meetings with the minister and three meetings with the Pilbara Development Commission. I made a phone call only yesterday to the Department of Regional Development and Lands, and we are now getting somewhere in getting some land made available for not-for-profit housing associations and not-for-profit local groups so that they can build affordable housing. When we talk about affordable housing, we are talking about a maximum of 30 per cent of people’s income being spent on that. In this talk about affordable housing, they are saying that it starts at $450 a week. That is no good to somebody earning $800 a week et cetera. When you have a look at the not-for-profit sector, you are looking at people who are earning $40,000 to $50,000 a year in that area. That is certainly not affordable. It has to be as a percentage of their income. Then, if you look at the business sector as well—people working in the fast food outlets, in Coles, in Kmart, in the stores and supermarkets et cetera or making your coffee for you in the morning—there you are. You have those people there, and how much are they getting paid a week? If they want to give it a go and rent a flat, they should be able to do that at an affordable rate.

CHAIR —Is your agency involved in relocating people who come to the agency?

Mr Neville —No, we are not. That is something the companies would do. We are not an employment agency; we are an Aboriginal organisation. We deliver about 13 programs, including a sobering-up service, a night patrol and a homelessness support service. We have quite a homeless contingent in Hedland; I think we have a tent city out there, Barry. If you have a look out the back of South Hedland, you have lots of tents out there with people living in them. We also have an Aboriginal hostel and a number of skills training and employment programs within the organisation. We use that as a holistic service, going from sobering up to the patrol or from sobering up to the homeless, the hostel or skills training. We get them out into new jobs, which is proving successful.

Our biggest issue at the moment is the fact that there are not enough skilled mentors to retain people into those jobs. You mentioned that the retention rate is good—and it is and has been—but unfortunately it is starting to slip at the moment, because the analogy about the low-hanging fruit has gone and all the people we trained in the eighties have now been retrained and they are in the jobs. But we have to get people, which is a lot harder. As I said, it is anywhere between one to three years just to get them ready to start training with the mining sector, so, yes, it is becoming harder and harder. We are not an employment agency. We are paid by two programs under the Department of Training and Workforce Development. We also have an IEP, an Indigenous Employment Program, through DEEWR, which helps pay the wages of the staff. That has been good for the community and good for the Aboriginal community, but we are only touching the surface with it. A lot more work needs to be done.

CHAIR —Is your partnership with the local schools as well?

Mr Neville —Yes, we have partnerships with the local schools, and we run a training and employment expo each year, which we have the schools come to. We deliver career development services in the schools as well. I went to Perth the other week in partnership with two others groups, a youth group and a group training organisation in Perth, about delivering services to years 10, 11 and 12 for BHP—this is a program at BHP for Aboriginal students et cetera. We can see that the large mining sector, BHP certainly, is investing in the Hedland and East Pilbara areas. They are obviously looking at ensuring that the communities and the Aboriginal people have economic development as part of their operations all around the Pilbara.

CHAIR —Most of it is a requirement of their agreements now to proceed with projects, though. Do not get me wrong; I am grateful to see the investment, but most of them have a specific percentage requirement target—whatever you want to call it—for Aboriginal employment.

Mr Neville —They do; they have their target. Their target at the moment is set at 12 per cent. They are looking at getting rid of that target and looking at numbers rather than a percentage in the area. The next step obviously is to try to get career development and training Aboriginal people for the business sector and the management sector. That is why the schools are very important.

Mr HAASE —You painted a fairly rosy picture, if I may, in relation to company funding and departmental government funding. You have told us all about the various services that the Bloodwood Tree Association provides and yet you have also told us that there is still a 35 per cent unemployment rate amongst Indigenous people. Why aren’t you more successful? What are the hurdles?

Mr Neville —We are only one small group and we have four Aboriginal training and employment consultants who are fully trained in the East Pilbara. We have another Aboriginal group in Tom Price—the Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation. They are doing a similar sort of job—another one doing a good job as well. There are only half a dozen of us throughout the whole of the Pilbara, and there are some 35 Aboriginal communities spread around the Pilbara. There are a lot of people out of work, and it is a lot of hard work. As I said, I have two of my staff right now in Halls Creek in the Kimberley, delivering skills training for employment and driver training programs, the Keys for Life—

Mr HAASE —Why?

Mr Neville —Because there is nobody else up there to do it.

Mr HAASE —Why aren’t you concentrating more on the Pilbara, which is closer to home, which would keep people in country?

Mr Neville —We are concentrating on them, but if an outsider asks us and we can fit it in then we do so and hopefully we can also fit in going there to capacity build their organisation to deliver that as well.

Mr HAASE —Of the 35 per cent you are speaking of, I want to hear that that 35 per cent are not up to a stage that you can take on and give a pretraining program to with success.

CHAIR —It has dropped from 46 per cent.

Mr HAASE —From 47 per cent, actually. What are the hurdles? We need to know where we need to put our efforts in to knock hurdles down.

Mr Neville —The hurdle is not enough resources. As I said, I agree with—

Mr HAASE —More money, better results?

Mr Neville —I think it is the whole structure of it. It is like the job network: ‘Here are some dollars.’ They said: ‘Go out and do this and we will pay you these dollars,’ so it has turned into a profit-making thing. It is not about that; it is about training people up and getting them into jobs. That is the key.

Mr HAASE —So what is wrong with the job network?

Mr Neville —It is certainly not geared up to service Aboriginal people. It is not geared up to service people who are not educated beyond year 6 and 7.

Mr HAASE —How would we change it to make it more appropriate?

Mr Neville —It needs to be changed to fit the region it goes into.

Mr HAASE —What would it look like?

Mr Neville —I suppose it would look something like what we deliver at Bloodwood Tree but in a bigger and better way. At the moment we are working out of what was a three-bedroom state house in a residential area with an extension on it paid for by the state government so we could employ a few more people to start it off, but it needs to be a lot bigger. We now have the funding to build a new building, as you may have heard—some of that was through Royalties for Regions—and we will be starting that now. This time next year we should be moving into a brand new building and we can expand. We have plans to expand into a group training organisation. We have no Aboriginal group training organisation here and we are expanding to become a group training organisation so we can deliver those services.

CHAIR —So there is none of the job service funding model where you are basically funded per participant registered with you?

Mr Neville —We do that. We go out and we have to get them registered through the job network first before we can use that, so that is the first hurdle we have to get through to be able to get that funding, to be able to offer the training. Because the job network do not have the resources to supply the training, who is going to supply it? We supply the training, and it is that pre-employment training. It is not VET.

Ms BIRD —Can I just ask about that, because the thing I hear in my area with youth unemployment is that job network training providers are very reluctant to fund pre-employment because it does not give them the outcomes, because there is no immediate tick-off that the person has gone into a job.

Mr Neville —Exactly. It is not VET.

Ms BIRD —Yes, so it is really difficult with those hard-core unemployed to get funding for a short period, let alone the 12 or 18 months that might be needed to actually get them job ready for traineeships and apprenticeships. So you have the same thing.

Mr Neville —We have the same thing. You are dead right. It is like driving lessons. We get them through the job network and they are very reluctant to pay for all those driving lessons. For some people it may only take three to four driving lessons and an assessment, and at $75 a lesson that is nearly $400, but for the next person it might take 15 driving lessons—we do not know. So they are sometimes very reluctant to do that. It seems as though they have this little pot of money and they are very reluctant to grab it. That is why I agree. We have set up this job network to be a for-profit organisation, to make money, not to service the people, train them up and get them into jobs.

CHAIR —So the one who has the contract in Port Hedland is a for-profit private organisation?

Mr Neville —That is a good question. We actually have two now and it has become a bit of an issue. We used to have one. We now have two job networks.

Mr HAASE —So you are saying the government’s system does not guarantee sufficiently that there is practical funding to create a long-term employed person? You think it needs to be changed substantially.

Mr Neville —The way people are assessed needs to be changed—and when I say ‘assessed’ I mean my staff assess them. They are Aboriginal staff and they are trained up to assess what people need to be able to get into a traineeship. In an assessment for Centrelink most of the time they get on the phone to somebody in Melbourne, Sydney or Canberra and they get assessed, which is not good enough. They get assessed totally incorrectly as to which stream they need. There are all these different streams to go into et cetera, but we need to be able to go in there and deliver all of those services, whether it is getting this person identification, getting them enough literacy and numeracy to get by—it does not have to be full literacy and numeracy, where they would go to TAFE and have to spend weeks and weeks there, but basic literacy and numeracy, or making them able to get their learners permit. To be able to understand and get their learners permit through the mainstream, it is about going on a computer and answering questions. It does not work for Aboriginal people. That is why we use Keys for Life.

Keys for Life is a program set up to help 16-year-old schoolkids get their learner’s permits. We have been using it for years. Their staff are trained through the department of transport to deliver that service to groups of people—and that is what they are doing in Halls Creek now—so that they can obtain their learner’s permits. They learn the road rules and everything is done across the table and it is done right there—not on the computer. It is done with boards, maps, movies and bits and pieces. It is a full two-day workshop.

Mr HAASE —What do you think about Generation One, or the Aboriginal employment covenant?

Mr Neville —I do not think it does anything. I really do not know anything about it. Is that the 50,000 jobs? It is the same thing. I had someone in my office some time ago about it. They came in to see what we did, and when they saw what we did, they said, ‘You do everything anyway. You don’t need us.’ I said, ‘We do need you, because we would like some resources.’ And they said, ‘We’ve got no money.’ What is the point in this bloke coming up here?

Ms BIRD —To be fair, in a region like mine, where companies do nothing, it is a program that actually drives a view that might be held by the companies out here where they have got a responsibility to do something. It may be the wrong target—

Mr HAASE —Have you got anything to say about Generation One?

Mr Neville —Do you want to remind me what Generation One is?

Mr HAASE —What has emerged is a government supported initiative that has put some teeth to the Aboriginal employment covenant. The covenant was the aspiration to register 50,000 vacancies. Generation One is the funding that has gone to create opportunities for the Indigenous people that might fill those 50,000 vacancies.

CHAIR —It is to sign up employers who are prepared to take on an Aboriginal person, essentially.

Mr Neville —Basically that is what we do. We do that through the major mining resource sector. We have negotiated with them—

CHAIR —What about all the other companies in your town?

Mr Neville —They are signatories. Coles is a signatory to Indigenous employment through—what was that one some years ago? I have forgotten what it is called now.

Mr HAASE —Coles ran a program for a long time—with questionable results, Bob; that is the problem.

Mr Neville —Exactly. It is about setting up that infrastructure to support the group. When we get a company on board that say they have got a contract with the major mining sector and they have to have this number of Aboriginal people and they do not know how to go about it, we can come in there and give them an Aboriginal employment strategy. We can help them through all of that and get them work—

Ms BIRD —I think it is the other end, because I have Aboriginal employment development organisations in my area—and I am half an hour from Sydney—who were doing all the sorts of things that Bob is talking about but no employers would give them a start. You have got a history of mining companies who say, ‘If we can get these people up to this level we have got a target and we have to provide employment.’ In an area like mine, none of the employers have any obligation to take on Aboriginal people. So my employment agencies are saying the opposite. They are saying, ‘We have got all these community volunteers doing driving lessons’ and all of that sort of stuff, and at the end of it none of these employers have any responsibility or commitment to take them on. So I think it might be a different target market that that sort of program is aimed at—to be fair to it. No doubt there are gaps. I am not denying there are gaps.

Mr Neville —There definitely are gaps.

Mr HAASE —Bob has mentioned the mentoring system and the significance of it, and there is no-one more experienced in that field or more conscious of the necessity for it than Dick Estens. Dick Estens started the Moree Aboriginal employment mentoring service and has had huge success. Bob, has he been across to Bloodwood?

CHAIR —They do not have to be Aboriginal mentors either.

Mr Neville —Our ones are mentors for Indigenous people. Regarding the Aboriginal employment strategy in Moree, New South Wales, I saw the program back in 2003 on the ABC and that is how we started the local employment strategy in Hedland. That went from the local employment strategy to the Regional Partnerships agreement. I suppose I get a bit perturbed every time I see something from DEEWR come through and it has ‘Aboriginal Employment Strategy’ on it and I think, ‘Why are they plugged into DEEWR and Bloodwood Tree isn’t plugged into DEEWR?’ We recognise what we do but it seems that no-one else wants to recognise what is going on in the Pilbara.

We seem to get bypassed all the time in the Pilbara. It is like the state department of training and workforce development and the Aboriginal workforce development centres. When it was announced by the minister, we were down there. I and one of my colleagues gave a presentation to 500 people, including the minister. Afterwards, he made the announcement about these Aboriginal training workforce development centres—one in Broome, one in Geraldton and one in Bunbury. They flew over the Pilbara again. Those are the sorts of things that we seem to be missing out on.

Ms BIRD —Something that I have been banging on about and wanting to raise with our ministers is the local solutions thing and that DEEWR has developed a long culture of big contracts to big players to deliver standardised stuff across the country while there is local expertise and knowledge. There are lots of similarities, and no doubt Dick Estens’ model will have things that would be useful in the Pilbara, but the reality is that, at the end of the doubt, the crunch point is those local idiosyncrasies that you have to deal with, and these sorts of models—these big national contracts—are really unsuited.

Mr Neville —They are.

Ms BIRD —I have in my area the new enterprise scheme—the one that trains people to set their small businesses up. Again, it has gone to a big national company instead of a local group who have run it for 20 years and have all the connections and all the knowledge of the local area. Is that a similar sort of thing?

CHAIR —People who can fill in application forms really effectively versus people who are actually delivering results.

Ms BIRD —People who know their communities and know where a good opportunity would be. Is that the sort of thing? Am I right in understanding that?

Mr Neville —You are partly right. Yes, for sure, that has to happen—like with the application forms. Most of the companies I see need referees. I and my staff have to referee a lot of people. We referee most of the Aboriginal community in Port Hedland et cetera. And they are supposed to have so many years work experience. We negotiate our away around that with the companies. Most of them have standardised forms and their human resource departments. They are the gatekeepers and they will not let anything go past—

CHAIR —Are you aware of whether DEEWR has actually undertaken a genuine evaluation that checks out your success rate versus some of the alternatives?

Mr Neville —Bloodwood and our staff celebrate our own good fortune and outcomes, and we do not expect to be patted on the back every time, because we are paid to do this and I pay the staff to do it. That is why it happens. They will say, ‘So many millions of dollars—$30 or $40 million—has been ploughed into the Pilbara for Aboriginal training, employment et cetera; where has it gone?’ But you have to have a look at it and say, ‘How many millions of dollars did we actually give to multibillion dollar mining resource companies to do this?’ You have to think, ‘Is that the right way to go?’ I do not know. I do not believe it is.

We need people out there on the ground. We need to training up local people on the ground to train up the local Aboriginal people and get them into sustainable jobs so that they become part of our society. That is what we are trying to do. I said, ‘Newman is a huge issue. There are absolutely no facilities whatsoever for Aboriginal people.’

Mr RAMSEY —Bob, you said that you have been getting 90 people a year into long-term work.

Mr Neville —Yes.

Mr RAMSEY —Can you give any breakdown on how much of that is going into the government sector and how much is going into the private sector?

Ms BIRD —What sort of work?

Mr RAMSEY —I will reflect on where I come from. In some of the communities it is making a difference but the predominant employer of Indigenous workforce is the government.

Mr Neville —The majority of it is going into the mining resource sector or their associated contracting areas. The next biggest ones after that would be retail and hospitality, which is the cooking, cleaning—

CHAIR —I think what Bob is saying is that the government would be amongst the worst—

Mr RAMSEY —That is why I am picking it up.

Mr Neville —I think we have got one or two people into government jobs in the last three to four years. We employ people ourselves into the not-for-profit non-government sector. We train them up and we lose some of those to the mining sector as well. But that is fine.

Ms BIRD —What about child care? We have heard of child-care shortages.

Mr Neville —For child care we did train up a number of Aboriginal people as childcare workers. They have since moved on, and I think the majority of those are now working in the hospitality sector in the mining camps et cetera, because there is obviously a lot more money in there. We would like to be able to get an Aboriginal childcare centre for sure.

Mr RAMSEY —You mentioned in your opening statement that some of the money going to child care is being given to the companies to expand their childcare sponsored centres.

Mr Neville —What I said was that there was funding through Royalties for Regions and that there was an amount of $3 million allocated.

Mr RAMSEY —Are those places restricted? Is that what you are saying?

Mr Neville —To my knowledge they are not restricted. I know BHP is not restricted. I cannot answer for Rio Tinto, but it is obviously prioritised for their employees; that is why it is put in there. My take on that was that it was an issue which was raised at the regional partnership agreement on child care. It was an issue which was not managed correctly by the Australian government to try to come up with any resolution for it; therefore, the mining sector had no alternative but to go out and build their own childcare centres so they could bring in their employees.

Ms BIRD —They also get a tax benefit for doing it.

Mr Neville —They probably do. But the bottom line is that it would appear again that we seem to be transitioning from normalised towns back to what we used to be as company towns. It would appear that the government is still not treating us as a normalised town and allowing the mining companies to go in, build most of the infrastructure and put everything in. That is causing a problem. It is not giving all of those mainstream services to the rest of the community. I wonder whether we are not now turning back the clock and going back to the mining towns.

Ms BIRD —You are saying that the industry based services make the community based ones uncompetitive because of things like providing staff with housing, which means you cannot get staffing.

Mr Neville —Yes. That was all said with the previous standing committee inquiry we had on affordable housing anyway.

Mr HAASE —The general rule across the nation does not involve government in building childcare centres. Surely the majority of child care is provided by private operators and then supported through the tax system.

Mr Neville —They are supplied in Hedland through not-for-profit organisations. They are not private for-profit organisations; they are not-for-profit organisations.

CHAIR —They are old-fashioned, community based childcare centres?

Mr Neville —Yes.

CHAIR —And Port Hedland has been identified as one of the places for the Aboriginal family centres, though your guess is as good as mine for when that will be developed. Port Hedland was unique in that it retained its childcare centres. At the time, there were no private-sector people wanting to operate because the mining companies, if they needed a childcare centre, built one.

Mr Neville —Which they just did.

Mr HAASE —There are two programs?

Mr Neville —There is Len Taplin, Rose Nowers and Treloar. They are the three community controlled childcare centres. They are all community controlled and they are reliant upon the funding that comes in from the child care et cetera. All three of them are struggling. I spoke to them the other day. They are struggling to get staff while people are struggling to pay the rates. They have to charge, and if they have to put housing on they have to whack an extra $60,000 or $70,000 a year onto somebody’s salary so they can pay for affordable housing to keep some of those childcare workers.

Mr HAASE —So you are saying there are places there but they are unaffordable places.

Mr Neville —No, there is a wait list there for those and, when they do come in, they are expensive. The problem is that they are not going to be able to take on many more, because they cannot get the staff to keep the children. They have to have so many. There is a rule about that.

CHAIR —And if you translated the situation to a metropolitan area you would probably get a market based response because a private-sector operator would build and grab what he or she knows is available demand.

Mr Neville —Yes, exactly.

Ms BIRD —Mind you, the middle of Sydney is having exactly the same problem in that childcare workers cannot afford to live in the middle of Sydney and cannot commute for two hours from Western Sydney anymore. It is a similar dilemma.

CHAIR —There are unique issues here. It is like the affordable housing question. What you want would see the price of housing come down and the housing rental to reduce, which would cause a whole lot of developers and people who have invested in property a great deal of pain and anxiety. You do not think so?

Mr Neville —No. I would just play the violin for them—that is all.

CHAIR —You and me both—a very little one.

Mr Neville —I bought my house in South Hedland in 1981 for $30,000 and sold it for $530,000 in 2008, which is—

Ms BIRD —Extraordinary.

CHAIR —Did you repurchase in 2008?

Mr Neville —No, I will not invest here because the market is just too volatile. I will not. I am investing in Kalgoorlie and in Perth, but I would not invest in Port Hedland because it is just too volatile.

CHAIR —Having said that, I do not know what the answer is given what you are saying about the disincentives to employment given the cost of living, the cost of housing and the like.

Mr RAMSEY —This is just my own opinion, but I think things such as child care and Medicare should have a regional factor built into them. The government has just announced a remoteness cash payment for doctors, but I think that should be reflected in the Medicare rebates and possibly be quite the same for child care. The more difficult and expensive it is to provide in an area because of its distance from a major centre ought to be reflected in the rebate as a way of actually encouraging—

Ms BIRD —I think the big challenge for the cost is that there is in Sydney a major issue with teachers, firefighters and childcare workers. They cannot afford to work in the centre of Sydney, so they are travelling two hours a day each way in order to access work. From a government perspective with that general concept I reckon you would end up paying just about everybody in the country bar about 20 per cent because of the amount of commuting that is going on.

CHAIR —My understanding is that the state government in Western Australia actually provided for a special fund which could be paid to state government employees over and above the going rate. I cannot remember what they called it but it was like—

Mr HAASE —District allowance?

CHAIR —No, it was even better than a district allowance, which people in the east never understand.

Mr Neville —I know with state government employees they did reduce the eligibility for state government housing—that is, what we call GRO housing, government regional officers’ housing—down to level 2, so there was housing made available through that as well. That is something we are trying to follow through with the non-government sector and the not-for-profit sector. I am sure it was the health department that made an offer to some of the not-for-profits of an extra $50,000 per FTE to pay for their housing et cetera.

You talk about the regional extra funding in tax. As long as it is not the same as the remote area tax allowance, which we give to the fly-in and fly-outs as well—I can understand why we do that, but anyway—

Mr HAASE —You are goading me, Bob. Only because my colleague Mr Ramsey has broached the subject, the contribution I would make is that we need to give the taxation zone rebate the most monstrous shake up of all time. We not only need to increase the payment to those bona fide residents of regional areas; we need to stop paying it to those who fly in and fly out from non-remote areas. There are some who live in remote areas and fly to other remote areas. We need to stop paying it to those people who live in the leafy suburbs and we need to stop paying it to residents of centres where populations are in excess of 50,000. We need to do it soon. In that way we can stop mucking around with all of this lack of incentive to go to remote areas.

Mr Neville —Exactly. I was disappointed that the tax reform of Ken Henry did not come out and make that statement.

Mr HAASE —God knows I suggested it to him, Bob.

CHAIR —We will have to find that erudite submission, Barry, and revisit it! Bob, I really appreciate your attendance today. It was a very different kind of conversation from ones we have had in other areas—maybe not so different from Cairns, who I think are experiencing issues similar to some you talked about. So thank you very much for coming along today. If you have any other brilliant ideas or magic wands tucked away at the Bloodwood Tree Association and you feel like you should bring them to our attention, please do! We ought to, as part of what you have said, have a look at the affordable housing report by the ATSIA standing committee as well. You will receive a copy of the transcript of your evidence today to which you can make corrections of grammar and/or fact. On behalf of the committee I want to thank you very much for your attendance here today.

Mr Neville —Thank you for allowing me to appear. I will leave you with a copy of the letter which I wrote to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs as well.

CHAIR —Fabulous. That would be great.

Mr Neville —Thank you very much indeed.

CHAIR —We will take a short break.

Proceedings suspended from 11.45 am to 12.02 pm