A high-profile organisation set-up by mining magnate, Andrew Forrest, working to break the cycle of Indigenous Australian unemployment and poverty has called on the Federal Government to ensure the national broadband network (NBN) back its goals.
The Australian Employment Covenant (AEC) was announced by Forrest and Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, in August last year as an industry-led initiative to provide 50,000 jobs to Indigenous people and 50,000 workplace mentors.
AEC operations manager, Wesley Aird, said an upcoming Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on July 2 is an opportune time for the government to show its support by aligning the NBN – which is predicted support an average 25,000 jobs every year during its implementation and a potential 37,000 jobs at its peak – with the organisation.
“We know closing the gap is of particular interest to that meeting,” he said. “So there is an opportunity there for Senator Stephen Conroy and the government to live up to a number of promises and deliver on its closing the gap commitment.”
The AEC has 40 registered employer members that cover 12 industries including companies like Rio Tinto, ANZ, Leighton Holdings and Woolworths.
“Employers get workers trained to their specifications when and where they want them,” Aird said. “It would be great if contractors got Indigenous people in at the entry level as they are keen workers ready for training. That would mean some of their longer-term employees, perhaps non-Indigenous, can get moved up the career path. Then over time hopefully the Indigenous people can head upwards and onwards as well.”
Aird added the AEC has a “good relationship” with the Minister for Employment Participation, Senator Mark Arbib, and hoped this would produce results with getting the NBNco to become a member.
“It makes sense that Mark Arbib would make a request to Stephen Conroy to keep us in mind,” he said. “We are also dealing with each of the states and territories where they are responsible for a range of nation building economic stimulus jobs. We could quite easily say, ‘hey, seeing we are here let’s talk about the national broadband’.”
Aird is meeting with coordinator generals from each state in Melbourne this week and said the AEC has a spot on the agenda, during which he hoped to raise the issue.
In a written response a spokesperson for Conroy baulked at committing NBNco to the AEC.
“An implementation study, scheduled to report early in 2010, will consider a range of issues including the governance arrangements for the National Broadband Network Company,” the spokesperson wrote in the statement.
“The implementation study will also consider issues such as human resource planning, strategies and training for the National Broadband Network rollout and ongoing operations of the company. The operations of the NBN Company will also be considered by the Chair and CEO of the company once they are appointed.”
*To contact the journalist on this story please email Trevor Clarke.