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What's wrong with Twiggy Forrest's Generation One?

Monday 29th Nov

What's wrong with Twiggy Forrest's Generation One?

STICS discussion forum

On October 29, unions, community organisations and Aboriginal rights groups launched a statement calling on the government to immediately halt unjust employment policies targeting Aboriginal workers in the NT, and for massive investment into real "jobs with justice". Central to that campaign has been the fight to reverse the government's scrapping of the Aboriginal controlled Community Development Employment Programs (CDEP) which had employed over 30,000 Aboriginal people in communities around the country.

Just as the federal government axed CDEP, it threw support behind the Australian Employment Covenant, launched by Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest in 2008. At the time Twiggy promised the Covenant would create jobs for 50,000 Aboriginal people, mainly working for large corporations like Crown Casino, in 2 years. As the 2-year deadline approached and with barely any jobs to show for the program, Forrest, again with support from the federal government, launched Generation One.

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STICS is discussing the politics of Aboriginal employment and what attitude the anti-intervention campaign should take to Generation One. * *Join us:* *Monday 29th November, 6pm* *Meeting room, Level 1, Federation House,* *33 Mary Street Surry Hills* *for directions call Emma: 0488 208 235

Briefing by Emma Murphy - 29 November 2010

Twiggy's Aboriginal jobs plan

A new report from the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) casts doubt on the ability of current government and corporate policy to meet its goal of "closing the gap" in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal unemployment.

The two projects banked on by government are Generation One, announced on national television on October 24, and the Aboriginal Employment Covenant (AEC).

Generation One markets itself as a "movement" and has noble aims of "closing the gap". It represents growing support for addressing Aboriginal disadvantage and an understanding of the role access to employment opportunities can play. The Generation One website boasted over 83,000 supporters on December 1.

The Australian Employment Covenant was announced in October 2008 by mining magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest. Its announced aim was to create 50,000 jobs for Aboriginal people within two years. It was welcomed by then-PM Kevin Rudd, who said it signaled a major shift in approach to Aboriginal affairs, that it was the "death of ideology".

Rudd said: "This is no longer a question about can government fix all these problems. We cannot. Let's be upfront about it."

The AEC is supposed to work by employers reserving a number of jobs (known as "covenant jobs") for Aboriginal people. They then commit to one of the jobs and must commit for at least 26 weeks. The federal government has agreed to provide pre-employment training necessary for that particular job.

The pre-employment training happens through existing programs. In other words, the AEC isn't creating new training, but rather identifying "employer need" then helping them use existing (mostly government-funded) training programs that would best suit them.

The AEC steering committee is chaired by conservative Aboriginal commentator Noel Pearson and includes Forrest, Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton, retired Aboriginal magistrate Sue Gordon, chairperson of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce Warren Mundine and Rod Eddington, a director of News Corp and a board member of the conservative think tank the Centre for Independent Studies.

These are all people who supported the racially discriminatory 2007 NT intervention, which eroded welfare rights for Aboriginal people and implemented the compulsory leasing of Aboriginal land.

Generation One and the AEC are increasingly becoming government policy - the future and present of policy direction regarding Aboriginal employment, at the expense of government programs such as the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP).

CDEP was a community-controlled employment project, that is now increasingly phased-out and watered-down into a corporate-controlled Work For the Dole scheme.

Senator Mark Arbib told a Senate estimates committee on November 17: "The AEC is just one of the government's overall Indigenous employment policies."

The AEC is a private sector initiative with government funding, although it is unclear how much. Department of Employment and Workplace Relations staff have been seconded to AEC offices. It was also reported that Rudd had granted the AEC team "full cabinet access". The full details of the funding and training agreements between government and AEC are not public.

The projects have also failed to deliver the 50,000 jobs promised.

At the end of the original two-year timeframe, the AEC had secured 20,000 job pledges but only an estimated 2800 job placements - well short of the 50,000 jobs target.

This bad publicity caused the AEC to back away from its original statements and claim it only ever promised 50,000 job pledges, not placements. The bad publicity also seems to have inspired the launch of Generation One - to reinvent the AEC, put a new face on it.

Generation One was launched by Forrest and there is some crossover in terms of board members. Pearson is on the board, for example.

The most recent census figures put the total number of Aboriginal Australians in paid work at 122,000. In the five years to 2006, considered a time of strong job creation, only 22,000 Indigenous people took on jobs.

Creating 50,000 more jobs - and placing Aboriginal people in them - was always going to be a massive task. It would take a radical rethink of Aboriginal employment. One would expect it would take massive government investment and creation of programs, training and jobs.

But while the AEC is a private sector initiative, it seems to be building on government trends in Aboriginal employment, rather than a break from the past.

In government propaganda about "closing the gap", and in its report cards on the same, it has said it will rely heavily on the private sector to reach its targets, and has highlighted the AEC as a key factor in closing the gap.

The full details of government financial contributions to the AEC are not public. But we do know the government has committed $4 million to the AEC for start-up funding and a "long-term funding model based on the achievement of outcomes".

What do "job pledges" actually mean?

Covenant employers sign up saying they will guarantee a certain number of jobs to appropriately trained Aboriginal applicants. But this is not a legal obligation. The AEC sees it as more of an informal agreement that, if more than one person applies for the job, the employer will positively discriminate in favour of an Aboriginal applicant, provided they have the required skills.

In a way it works like an affirmative action scheme. But jobs advertised under the AEC are positions that need filling, so if no appropriately trained Aboriginal person applies within a certain timeframe, the job may be given to someone else.

Even if 50,000 jobs were pledged under the AEC, Aboriginal people wouldn't necessarily fill them all. Quoting the number of jobs "pledged" rather than "created" under the AEC is very misleading. The number indicates a maximum number of jobs that might be created for Aboriginal people, rather than the actual number.

Generation One has said it aims to "change aspirations of Indigenous Australians". Mostly it seems concerned with moving Aboriginal Australians into the private sector and explicitly out of their homelands.

Generation One and the AEC need to be seen in the context of government attacks on welfare rights. It aims to ensure Aboriginal Australians "achieve their full potential as productive members of society" and show Aboriginal students "welfare is not an option".

This complements most government approaches, which privatise job unemployment services and allow government to dodge responsibility for training, welfare or job creation.

For example, in the Senate Estimates hearing on November 17, Arbib said it was "extremely difficult" to get people who had previously been on CDEP in Yirrkala to move to Melbourne to take up an AEC job.

This direction ignores the type of Aboriginal employment that could be created immediately in NT communities, simply through responding to community need and no longer bringing in white contractors to do work local Aboriginal people could do.

There is a strong desire to work in remote communities; some people continue to turn up to CDEP employment, even when they know they won't get paid.

Generation One's focus on "changing aspirations" is out of touch with what Aboriginal people want and need.

Most AEC jobs listed are not in areas of high Aboriginal unemployment. Most of the jobs in that WA and the NT are in urban and regional centres, not remote areas.

When the CAEPR report was written, 90% of the 350 jobs listed on the AEC website were with Linfox - mainly as warehouse packers.

Aboriginal people signing up to AEC must commit to staying on for 26 weeks, before they've met the employer or seen the workplace.

Most of the jobs are low skilled and will require a shift away from family and country, so this is a huge ask - and a standard not imposed on many other jobs, which usually have a "probation" period. Only about 20% of AEC employers have provided data on retention rates so it is hard to assess how successful it has been.

But the ideological implications of requiring Aboriginal people to sign up for at least six months' work, in low-paid, low-skilled jobs far from home should ring alarm bells. It sounds like the "mutual obligation" approach increasingly favoured by government.

Much of the criticism in this report has been about how AEC failed to deliver what it promised, or perhaps even failed to explain what it meant about job placement versus job pledges. It's important to understand those failings.

But it is also important to understand that perhaps the most damning thing about the AEC isn't that it failed to achieve what it set out to do - it's what it DID set out to do. That is, not support Aboriginal employment and training programs on communities and homelands; not use its corporate muscle to pressure for massive immediate government investment into communities; and not speak out against the massive attack on Aboriginal employment happening right now in the NT.

The AEC began at the same time that CDEP started winding down. The AEC pledged 50,000 jobs at the same time as up to 35,000 CDEP workers were losing their jobs.

The AEC and Generation One don't value Aboriginal culture, or the traditional, collectivist approaches that might see one wage being divided between five people, or the ties to country that might mean staying home is much healthier and more socially useful than moving to Melbourne to work in a casino - one of Generation One's success stories.

By focusing on "changing aspirations" and "teaching that welfare isn't an option", AEC and Generation One are ignoring all the thousands of Aboriginal people that do want to work on their country, with their people. It says the problem is Aboriginal people and if they change how they think, Aboriginal disadvantage will be addressed.

The Aboriginal rights movement needs to be able to put forward an alternative vision, of jobs with justice, community control, and full employment and services that are complimentary to - not at the expense of - culture and country. <end>


Background Information

CENTRE FOR ABORIGINAL ECONOMICPOLICY RESEARCH - Corporate Initiatives In Indigenous Employment: The Australian Employment Covenant Two Years On, K. Jordan and D. Mavec, CAEPR WORKINGPAPER No. 74/2010


Media Coverage

Tracker - LITTLE BLACK DUCK: The generational gap - 13 September 2011 - Back in the day, our popular Aboriginal artists were at the forefront of political debate. Now NICOLE WATSON* wants answers to why so many have signed up to GenerationOne. -

MR: GenerationOne Director Sacked for Slamming Racial Slurs - has been taken off the website on 19 Sept 2011 as per Chris Lawrence's request


AFP - Indigenous Australian 'too white' for Aboriginal charity Generation One - 4 November 2010 - AN AUSTRALIAN Aboriginal woman today said she was "humiliated" after being told she was too white to work for an indigenous rights charity. -

ABC The Drum Unleashed - I am a Wiradjuri woman ... but too white to work - 4 November 2010 - I am a pale-skinned Aboriginal woman, but that has never made me any less Aboriginal. -

ABC News - Aboriginal woman 'not dark enough' for advocacy job - 4 November 2010 - Indigenous advocacy group Generation One has apologised to an Aboriginal woman who says her job application was turned down because her skin was not dark enough. -

SMH - Aboriginal student rejects apology - 4 November 2010 - Aboriginal student rejects apology -

SMH - Indigenous applicant not black enough for the job - 4 November 2010 - A YOUNG Aborigine was ''shocked'' and ''humiliated'' to hear she might not look ''indigenous'' enough for a job promoting the Aboriginal employment initiative GenerationOne, founded by the mining entrepreneur Andrew Forrest. -

Youtube - Tarran Betterridge & Generation One.mpg - 4 November 2010 - What is Generation One? Is it going to help Aboriginal people or is it a something else altogether?I guess time will tell who will benefit from " Generation One" more... my cynical "money" is on Fortescue Metals -