Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Former Origin Greats Indigenous Employment Expo

Location: Brisbane


It is a pleasure to be here as you get ready to open the turnstiles for the inaugural Former Origin Greats Indigenous Employment Expo.

Even though I was born in Brisbane I have spent most of my life in Melbourne, so I rely on your patron Kevin Rudd and vice-patron Wayne Swan to guide me on the finer points of rugby league.

Last month I had a fantastic night at the World Cup Welcome to Country dinner in Sydney in the lead-up to the Dreamtime Team’s exciting 34-26 win against New Zealand Maori.

Staging the World Cup final at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night tells me Queensland is at the centre of rugby league’s heartland.

The Prime Minister and Treasurer also tell me it’s the best ground to watch and play rugby league in the world.

Queenslanders are justifiably proud of the mighty Maroons and their State of Origin record.

I am very aware that being in this room with Maroons legends is regarded by Queenslanders as akin to rubbing shoulders with royalty.

I do have some family connection with your sport.

One of my cousins is Lee Pomfret, a first grader with St George, Canterbury and Illawarra in the 70s and 80s.

Lee is the one clocked by big Bob Cooper – having his nose and both sides of his cheekbone smashed.

Cooper also floored two other players and his 15 month suspension was part of a concerted effort by officials to clamp down on dirty play.

This clean-up coincided with the emergence of State of Origin as the showpiece of the code – breathing new life and interest into the sport and setting the standard for the modern game.

We’d all agree that sport can be a powerful tool to transform kids’ lives.

Like the NT policeman who’d requested a consignment of footballs from police headquarters because he knew that’s how he could connect with the kids in his community.

As well as the obvious health benefits, kids learn to turn up for practice, to listen to the coach, to be part of a team.

I would like to congratulate the Former Origin Greats, the corporate supporters and job network providers who have partnered with the Australian Government for this expo.

It’s the teamwork that’s essential to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

This includes getting more Indigenous people into sustainable jobs.

To break the cycle of unemployment and disadvantage so that Indigenous kids grow up in families where their parents have jobs.

We all know that having a job is the key to unlocking personal, social and economic progress.

A job brings purpose and meaning to people’s lives. It means financial independence.

And seeing their parents going out to work each day is the best role model a kid can have. The Australian Government is determined to deliver programs that are effective in getting people into work.

That’s why we are reforming Indigenous employment programs to give people the training and skills they need to get a job and keep it.

And it’s why we are working with business to create 50,000 Indigenous jobs in the next two years as part of the Australian Employment Covenant, led by Andrew Forrest.

It’s the same commitment demonstrated by Blue Care, one of Australia’s leading aged and community care providers, whose Indigenous staff numbers rose from eight to 100 in a year.

With a goal to boost the number to more than 300 by 2010.

What you are doing here today is a practical way to help break the cycle of Indigenous disadvantage.

The expo stallholders all have jobs to offer – so that when people come through the doors in a few hours’ time they can walk onto a new field of dreams.

When Former Origin Greats was formed by the late Dick ‘Tosser’ Turner 11 years ago, the community and business rallied behind you to support charities like cancer research.

I know the Queensland rugby league fraternity is still grieving the loss of ‘Tosser’ earlier this year, but I am sure he is smiling over the new level FoGS has risen to.

By tackling Indigenous disadvantage, FoGS is also honouring the amazing Indigenous heritage of Queensland rugby league.

The first Aboriginal to go overseas in a representative team was Glen Crouch – picked for Queensland’s tour of New Zealand in 1925.

The list goes on.

  • Indigenous Team of the Century player Frank Fisher, the grandfather of Olympic legend Cathy Freeman, starred in Wide Bay teams in the 1930s.
  • Tweed Heads and Wynnum-Manly winger Lionel Morgan was the first Aboriginal to play for Australia in 1960.
  • And Arthur Beetson, who led Queensland to victory in the birth of Origin in 1980, was the first Indigenous Australian to captain his county in any sport.

Trailblazers then and trailblazers now with the former greats throwing their weight behind encouraging Indigenous people into education and careers.

There are now 300 Indigenous trainees in the PASS Australia program who are now being mentored by FoGS.

These are school-based traineeships that lead to a Certificate II in Community Recreation.

I’m told when the program started the trainees sailed through the physical side but weren’t so keen on handing in assignments.

But with the incentives of first class training, education, support and other rewards, this has changed.

Of course, it’s not just footballers getting involved.

Melanie Schlanger helped Australia to the 200m freestyle gold medal in Beijing.

Melanie has been mentoring in communities including Palm Island, where six young people recently completed their certificates.

Finally can I say the name Former Origin Greats sells you short.

The work you’re doing in Indigenous communities means you are still great performers – but now you’re scoring points off-field.

Because kick-starting the careers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids is up there with “King” Wally Lewis’s record eight Origin man-of-the-match awards.

Congratulations and best of luck with your Expo.

I hope it becomes a Queensland tradition bringing as much success to Indigenous people as the Maroons enjoy in State of Origin rugby.