Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Garma Festival 2008


I would like to thank the Gumatj people for welcoming all of us to their country today and pay my respects to the traditional owners.

Your welcome is especially appreciated today as it is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. This is an important occasion to recognise and celebrate the vital contribution of Indigenous people – around the world and in Australia

At home, the Australian Prime Minister has made it clear that Indigenous issues are a national priority. We have laid out ambitious targets to chart the way forward. These are the basis of a big reform program that has put Indigenous issues squarely where they should be – at the heart of the Government agenda.

Two of the driving forces of the Government agenda are: first, involving Indigenous people in developing solutions and second, promoting Indigenous economic participation.

So I am particularly pleased to be opening this conference today which I understand is the first remote Indigenous Economic Development conference at Garma. I want to congratulate the organisers for recognising and promoting the importance of economic participation to Indigenous issues.

I’m glad that my colleague Warren Snowdon, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, will be talking to you about Indigenous recruitment in defence this morning. I know he’s keen to get more recruits in regional units.

When we came into government, we had a strong agenda of economic development for Indigenous Australians.

Everyone here today knows that a job is the key to unlocking personal, social and economic progress. A job means self esteem. It means financial independence.

Seeing adults in a job provides an artillery of ambition, aspiration and imagination for children.

It is no good when a child says to you that there is no point going to school because they don’t know anyone who is working.

One of the biggest challenges for all of us – communities, the corporate sector and government – will be to create jobs and stimulate business development in remote locations.

And we need more strategies for brokering partnerships and bringing the players together.

I’m sure you all know that Desert Knowledge Australia is an organisation that brokers partnerships to help build sustainable industries in the desert regions of Australia. They are doing some innovative work, bringing together small businesses, corporate giants and government.

I am very pleased to announce that the Australian Government is providing $2.9 million for their Linked Business Networks project.

This will include support for existing and new Indigenous businesses in the Northern Territory.

Accessing markets can be a major challenge, especially with rising petrol prices – not to mention the isolation that strikes during the wet.

There’s also the high costs and time delays involved in importing any materials needed to run your business.

Desert Knowledge is bringing together small businesses in remote areas into networks, so that they can identify mutual business opportunities and jointly address these challenges of distance and isolation.

I’m sure Desert Knowledge will be telling you much more about it themselves, but it is a fantastic project, focusing on four sectors – mining services, tourism, bush products and food, and sustainable buildings.

The corporate sector is also jumping in to help: BHP, Qantas and Telstra are putting in a further $2.5 million, and the Northern Territory Government $600,000.

We also need to work more closely with the corporate sector. Meeting our targets can only happen through sustained multi-sectoral effort where all parts of the Australian community play a role.

Of course government is central and we are taking responsibility. But the issues are bigger than any one sector.

Everyone has a part to play.

Many companies are already engaged in this national challenge and are achieving great things in Indigenous communities through activities like school-based traineeships, mentoring and scholarships.

The Government wants to harness and build on this commitment. We want to enlist and support corporates to help drive change.

That’s why the Government is pleased to support the initiative of Andrew Forrest from Fortescue Metals, to work with the top boardrooms of Australia to create 50,000 new Indigenous jobs.

50,000 new Indigenous jobs is a big ambition of course. But the energy and determination from so many business leaders can make a difference.

Of course, the mining industry has already been leading the field to train and encourage Indigenous job seekers – their work to lift the number of Indigenous employees has been path breaking.

And Rio Tinto Alcan, your neighbour at the bauxite mine and alumina smelter in Nhulunbuy, has recently announced it wants to negotiate a regional agreement with the Yolngu people.

Rio has pledged it would work with Indigenous leaders and the Australian and NT Governments to create economic and employment opportunities for Yolgnu people here.

The government stands ready to contribute but we want to see the benefits in jobs and training flowing broadly to the Yolngu community.

The Government wants to harness and build on corporate commitment. We want to enlist and support the corporate sector to help drive change.

The experience of Reconciliation Australia and the development of reconciliation action plans will be very important for showing the way forward. Look at the employment targets being set and met by Qantas and the ANZ bank to name just two.

To make sure we get it right, the Government is developing an Indigenous Economic Development Strategy which will put in place specific and practical measures to help close the employment gap.

Reforming land tenure is essential if we are to encourage investment in housing, business and ultimately improve Indigenous economic opportunities.

We have recently signed an 80 year lease and regional partnership agreement on Groote Eylandt which will deliver much needed housing and employment.

The reform of CDEP is fundamental to sustainable Indigenous economic development across Australia.

Rather than parking people in permanent work-experience, we want CDEP to focus on readiness skills for real work in communities, getting more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into regular jobs where opportunities exist.

In poor labour markets, of course, such opportunities might not be possible, so we want to make sure people have access to meaningful work.

Effective reform of CDEP will involve dynamic partnerships with the private sector.

Another critical pathway for Indigenous people to build a stronger economic future is through access to land and certain property rights.

We must find ways for Indigenous communities to leverage land assets and native title rights.

For example, the High Court decision on Blue Mud Bay confirmed that traditional owners have rights to control access to the inter-tidal zone over Aboriginal land.

This gives them substantial control over the waters above that zone and will ensure these significant commercial opportunities in key fisheries can be pursued.

Because native title is so critical to economic development, we have set up a working group to advise us on how to make the best use of native title payments under mining and infrastructure agreements.

The group has representatives from the corporate sector, like Rio Tinto and BHP, lawyers and Indigenous experts. It met for the first time last week and I feel very optimistic about the process.

Advice from the group will be fed into a discussion paper to be released in September for public comment – and I look forward to your input.

Native title and land rights should reflect the changing needs and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a market economy.

And our Government wants to make sure that Indigenous property rights operate in the interests of the whole Indigenous community, both now and for future generations.

There is also the Indigenous Affairs parliamentary committee currently looking into whether government, industry and community programs and incentives are effective in building long-lasting businesses.

Government’s have an ongoing and very active role to play.

For example here in the NT we have lifted funding for housing and infrastructure – $813 million and a further $100 million from the NT Government – this is a substantial investment that must open up job opportunities for Indigenous workers in remote areas.

The Government has also made a major investment in land management – $90 million for rangers and a further $50 million for Indigenous protected areas.

Yesterday I emphasised the opportunities in the forestry sector and in control of savannah burning that will come from the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

We understand that successful enterprises can only be led by successful leaders. The Government’s Indigenous leadership program has helped 6000 people achieve their goals and aspirations.

Building capacity and leadership skills will enable Indigenous people to take ownership of the economic development agenda and progress initiatives in partnership with the private sector and government.

We are at a crossroads in terms of Indigenous economic development and each of us must grab the opportunities and work together.

Congratulations to Garma for their important leadership.

Thank you.