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Official launch of the Gwydir Valley Aboriginal Employment Strategy, Thursday, May 21, 1998: speech.

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Senator John Herron

Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs

Speech for the

official launch of the

Gwydir Valley Aboriginal Employment Strategy

Thursday, May 21, 1998.


Ladies and Gentleman, distinguished guests.

Thank you for the oppo rtunity to speak to you today.

It is an honour for me to be asked to officially open the Aboriginal Employment Strategy -

Firstly, I would like to talk about the success of this programme, then discuss the contribution programmes such as this are making.

Finally, I will look to the future.

The Aboriginal Employment Strategy has been a real success story and the Gwydir Valley Cotton Growers’ Association and the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs ought to be congratulated…….especially strategy co-ordinator Warren Barnes.

Within its first year of operation this innovative strategy provided employment and training opportunities for 72 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, including filling 14 full-time positions.

Like many cotton-growing towns, Moree has a large indigenous population and there are many social and economic benefits for the whole community.

It is hoped it can be expanded to other cotton growing regions in NSW, Queensland and eastern Australia.

In line with that, I am glad to announce today that the Commonwealth Government, through DEETYA, will provide funding of more than $210,000 - an increase of $68,000 in the next financial year.

Cotton Australia will provide another $30,000 - bringing total new funds for the second year of the programme’s operation to $240,000.

This extra money will be used to employ an Aboriginal mentor who will greatly enhance the programme.

The programme has brought about a positive attitudinal shift in the cotton-growing industry toward employing Aboriginal people in skilled positions.

Those businesses which helped contribute to the success include Dunavant Enterprises, the Moree Champion, Moree West Primary School, Coles-Myer, Colly Farms, Auscott, Agronomy Consultants, individual growers and GVCGA members.

We need to encourage other businesses in town to participate in the programme and help achieve real improvements in employment prospects for indigenous people.

In Alice Springs last year 140 people turned up at a breakfast sponsored by DEETYA, ATSIC and the CES to address the problem of youth unemployment….40 were expected.

It demonstrated that there is goodwill in the small business community and a desire to help.

If we are to achieve long-term and sustainable improved outcomes for indigenous Australians, we have to have a clear vision of what we are seeking to achieve and a commitment to work together.

This shared vision and commitment to work together must include indigenous people, governments and the private sector.

While the Commonwealth Government can and does provide a range of support programmes, at the end of the day, such programmes can only succeed if they are underpinned by, or are a part of, the day to day economy of this country.

The capacity for Australia’s indigenous people to break away from welfare dependency can only come if opportunities to do so are available.

And the challenge is immense - 50% of the Aboriginal population of 356,000 are 20 years or younger and most are unemployed.

Many people do not support the programmes to assist indigenous people.

The reality is that until indigenous Australians can appropriately share in the education, employment and economic opportunities of this country, there will continue to be a need for special programmes.

We must not lose sight of this.

Until we effectively address real improvements in education, employment and economic participation, there will be a dependence on welfare.

Sadly 60% of indigenous Australians are in some way dependent on welfare and over 50% are totally dependent.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have clearly demonstrated that, when given sufficient opportunities and support, they can dramatically improve their circumstances.

The number of indigenous higher education graduates grew from less than 10 in 1967 to around 8,000 in just 30 years.

There are now 9000 university students and 30,000 are either doing tafe courses or in secondary schools.

Well over 90% of graduates are employed, mostly in jobs commensurate with their education.

Over 4000 indigenous Australians will commence traineeships this financial year.

Three years ago there were only 800 indigenous trainees.

Indigenous people are recognising the importance os structured vocational training as a way forward.

The fact that some 30,000 indigenous people have foregone their direct access to unemployment benefits to engage in community based work and training activities, under the CDEP scheme, gives testament to the commitment of indigenous people at the community level to seek real improvements and real gains.

A longer-term focus on provi ding real improvements is to help indigenous Australians establish their own sucessful businesses.

The socio-economic circumstances of the vast majority of indigenous people in Australia today, lack of capital and limited access to it are major barriers to the establishment, acquisition or development of indigenous controlled businesses or joint venture partnerships.

Often inadequate skills and a lack of formal training in business create barriers for participating in business.

Good business ideas might not be pursued due to a lack of fundamental skills such as business planning and cash flow management.

For many indigenous people, low self esteem caused by negative stereotyping over generations, has created a fear of failure.

Success can be achieved given proper support and some long-term commitment to an advancement programme.

There have been many commercial organisations over the years to help indigenous business.

Very few of these organisations have been truly successful.

Too often, attempts to meet social needs with indigenous economic programmes have led to poor commercial decisions and thus commercial failures.

Given the range of social disadvantages experienced by indigenous people in Australia, it has been and still is, difficult for decision takers to separate the goals of commercial and social programmes when they are responsible for administering both.

A key to the future for indigenous people is for them to have the capacity to develop as a people and as Australians without being dependant on generational handout systems.

You have no doubt heard of families where 3 consecutive generations have been long-term unemployed….. And have never known a full-time job.

In the Aboriginal community, this is often a way of life.

In March I released a discussion paper, Removing the Welfare Shackles proposing a new indigenous organisation called Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) which would focus on economic development.

Experience both here and overseas clearly demonstrates that an organisation with an exclusive economic focus will get better results.

Economic programmes should not be compromised by social-welfare considerations because it only diminishes their effectiveness.

I am not saying that the focus on social and cultural programmes should be diminished.

A different and separate approach for economic development is needed.

The Squamish People of Canada believe self-reliance is the economic horse that will pull the welfare cart.

I am convinced that for indigenous Australians to be in control of their own destiny, they must be given the opportunity to attain economic independence.

The proposed IBA would participate in joint ventures with the private sector, it would encourage job creation and training, act as a conduit in assessing other government assistance and provide housing and business loans, grants and guarantees.

A similar structure was established in Canada 1989.

Since its inception, the organisation has worked with over 5,000 firms providing financial and non-financial support, and has programme investments worth over $300 million.

Canadian Aboriginal companies are active in all business sectors, including manufacturing, forestry, knowledge-based services, fine art, traditional crafts, high fashion, and software development.

Independent studies have shown that past clients are running profitable enterprises whether these are community-based operations, in urban or remote locations, or individually owned businesses.

For indigenous Australia, this new structure could bring together a range of existing activity which share a commercial focus.

To increase its investment potential, and to reduce a demand on government and tax payers for annual funding, Indigenous Business Australia would be given a merchant banker role in respect of existing investment funds.

This proposal requires large restructuring, but we can all play a part in helping Aboriginal people stand on their own feet.

Businesses can help by:

•  Offering an employment opportunity to an indigenous person so they can gain first-hand experience in the private sector;

• Providing mentoring support to a local indigenous business;

• Purchasing goods and services from indigenous suppliers; and

• Looking positively at joint venture opportunities which might arise.

At the end of the day, we as a nation will all benefit when indigenous people participate equally in the economy of the country.

Our failure to do so in the past has lead to their current circumstance.

Indi genous people do not want generations of handouts.

To eliminate that need, we all need to ensure equity in education, employment and economic wealth.

The Gwydir Valley Aborigonal Employment Strategy is helping in a significant way.

But it has not been an easy task.

Efforts first began in 1992 but the programme did not get off the ground until February last year, that’s 6 years in the making.

During the early stages it faced set back after set back.

At times the organisers of the Aboriginal Employment Strategy must have thought it would never come to fruition.

But their dedication has paid off and their hard work is an inspiration and example of what can be achieved.

With that in mind, I would like to conclude with these words from former American president Theodore Roosevelt-

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the greatest enthusiasm, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."




jy  1999-07-21  12:01