TIM COLEBATCH July 27, 2012
ABORIGINAL employment rates have slumped in the past five years, despite unprecedented efforts by the public and private sectors to increase indigenous workforce participation.
The Bureau of Statistics estimates that just 46.4 per cent of adult Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders had a job last year. That was a slight rise from 45.6 per cent in 2010 but well below the peak of 50.4 per cent in 2006.
The figures suggest that despite federal government intervention, numerous programs and private sector initiatives, indigenous participation in the workforce since 2006 has shrunk, not grown.
On these figures, for every 100 people added to the adult Aboriginal population in the past five years, only 22 had a job, while 78 were unemployed or outside the workforce.
Researchers have challenged the bureau's figures, which are complicated by the end of the Community Development Employment Program in remote communities. The program was essentially a work for the dole program, but the bureau counted those working on it as employed.
Australian National University economists Matthew Gray and Boyd Hunter have estimated that when CDEP participants are excluded, the bureau figures show that indigenous employment in non-CDEP jobs has been rising since 2006, especially among women.
But the bureau figures show a decline in employment rates among indigenous people in every state, every age group, and every type of location: big cities, regional areas and remote communities alike.
Even comparing three-year averages, the trends are the same. They suggest that indigenous workers, like other less skilled workers, have been the victims of the rise in unemployment and slowdown in jobs growth in Australia since the financial crisis began in 2008.
The Aboriginal leader Warren Mundine, the chief executive of GenerationOne, said the figures showed that existing policies were off track and should refocus on giving indigenous Australians clear pathways to jobs.
''I'm not surprised, to be honest,'' he said. ''This is why GenerationOne has been campaigning to end funding of training courses unless there's a guaranteed job at the end of them.
''We've got Aborigines out there with more certificates than a Harvard law professor but they don't have jobs. You've got to get people job ready first.
''The GenOne approach is to deal first with their lifestyle issues, health issues, family issues and their education issues, literacy and numeracy - then give them training with a promise of a job at the end.''
Mr Mundine said GenerationOne, a private sector non-profit group founded by the mining billionaire Andrew Forrest, had put 11,000 indigenous people into jobs and had pledges of 62,000 jobs from 330 companies.
''We're dealing with people who can't read and write, can't do maths,'' he said. ''They're not job ready. Quite frankly, a lot of money is being spent, for very little outcome.
''We could resolve the employment problem in a generation but to do that, governments have to focus on the real issues.''