During his “report card” speech Kevin Rudd claimed his government had “driven reforms through employment programs to give more Indigenous peoples the skills they need to get and keep a job.”
Yet they have moved towards virtual abolition of Community Development Employment Projects (CDEPs), which employed tens of thousands of Aboriginal workers. As the recession deepens, with hundreds of thousands predicted to join the dole queues, this policy is madness.
The “Australian Employment Covenant” (AEC) is replacing CDEPs as the government’s strategy in Indigenous employment. The AEC brings together Australia’s richest man, Andrew Forrest, CEO of Fortescue Metals Group, with hardline proponents of paternalism and assimilation. The board is crammed with supporters of the NT Intervention—Noel Pearson, Warren Mundine, Sue Gordon and Marcia Langton.
The AEC promised to create 50,000 full-time “real” jobs for Aboriginal workers in hundreds of private sector companies.
Rudd, in what he described as an “act of faith”, pledged tens of millions in training funds for the likes of ANZ, Linfox and Rio Tinto.
Crown Casino has “pledged” 300 jobs. The NT Intervention’s welfare quarantining is supposedly designed to keep Aboriginal people out of casinos—unless used as cheap labour!
Aside from such pledges, the 50,000 jobs are a figment of Forrest’s imagination. Already in February the AEC was bickering amongst themselves about why the targets cannot be reached.
On February 18 Marcia Langton was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald saying that the global financial crisis would gut the scheme, while The Australian carried a story where Forrest blamed government red-tape for the emerging failures.
CDEPs that are community controlled and have proved to support skills and community development in many areas are now closing their doors and in some cases watching their hard earned assets get seized by the government.
A campaign group has been set up in the NT to defend CDEP. In February CDEP representatives from several programs met in Canberra to discuss campaign strategy. The also took their demands to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin.
Rudd’s support for the big business employment scheme, at the direct expense of Aboriginal controlled, government-funded programs is simply more of the “free market fundamentalism” he recently decried in his essay in The Monthly.
By Jean Parker

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