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Indigenous jobs another forsaken moral challenge


13 year old Madeleine Madden is best known as the granddaughter of Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins. In a widely distributed television address on Sunday 24 October, she called on all Australians to help create real jobs and a better future for Indigenous Australians.

‘With a job – a real job – you can look after yourself, your family and help your community. I’ve seen the difference this has made in my own family because my Grandfather worked his whole life to give his kids what he never had,’ she said.

It follows that many Aboriginal Australians cannot look after themselves and their families because they do not have a job.

As part of the Intervention in the Northern Territory, the Federal Government committed to phasing out Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP), and replacing the lost employment with ‘real jobs’. 

Both the Coalition government then in office, and its Labor successor, were thinking that the CDEP closure would help Indigenous Australians become more self-reliant, and to find jobs outside government assistance provisions. However these jobs have not materialised in significant numbers, and the loss of CDEP positions has adversely affected Aboriginal workers in many communities. Moreover those still working on CDEP are being subjected to the indignity of being put on income management.

On Wednesday 20 October, Gurindji workers and residents from the communities of Kalkaringi and Dagaragu stopped work in protest against the loss of what they considered were hard earned rights. They were especially aware of the history of their people, remembering the action of Vincent Lingiari who led the walk off of exploited stockmen from Wave Hill station in 1966.

John Ferguson is national executive officer of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council. Writing on Aboriginal employment in the November issue of the Council’s Briefing newsletter, he quotes John Leemans, spokesperson for last month’s Gurindji protest. Leemans believes history is being repeated, with his people ‘forced to work for rations again’. 

‘Prior to the Intervention we had nearly 300 CDEP workers employed in municipal services, construction and maintenance roles. When the government took over and abolished the community council and CDEP everything came to a halt. We went two years without regular rubbish collection.’

Many of the Gurindji travelled to Alice Springs on Friday to join national rallies calling for ‘Jobs with Justice’ for Aboriginal workers and an end to the Intervention. 

Their action deserves widespread public sympathy, as it is almost three years since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generation, and there has been no closing of the gap in jobs between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. 

Rudd committed Labor to halving the gap in employment incomes within a decade as part of the targets established under the government policy framework. It looks like another moral challenge that Labor has given up on, and a further task for the independent parliamentarians who could be more committed to genuine action.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. He also teaches media ethics in the University of Sydney's Department of Media and Communications.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, madeline madden, indigenous jobs, gurindji, apology, stolen generation



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Existing comments

When will the world of bureaucrats, politicians and sections of the media (including today Eureka Street-sadly) come to understand that you cannot provide jobs when there are no jobs there?

This needs a Sirolli Institute type effort in facilitating entrepreneurship by assisting people to create their own micro businesses to generate income.

The opportunities are endless but NO money is put into allowing this to happen. Just look at Africa and read the wonderful stories or the Grameen Bank.

Wake up Australia - you cannot put people into jobs that aren't there. As for CDEP - it wsas never meant to be a way out for Councils, health services, schools and the like to avoid paying real wages - it was meant for purposes as outlined above. What does CDEP stand for - cheap labour or community development. There is the answer.

Rollo Manning | 01 November 2010  

A timely and a fine piece, Michael. I wonder whether now that the Prime Minister's office isn't, perhaps, micromanaging things in the way that Barrie Cassidy says it did under Kevin Rudd, Jenny Macklin might be able to respond more efficaciously to letters asking her to do so.

Joe Castley | 01 November 2010  

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