While sometimes described as miles and miles of nothing, very remote Australia is often imagined as an unused mass of land ripe for development. Yet our research work has again highlighted that it is not nothing, but rather an environment interwoven with historical and contemporary human history, soaked with relationships and meaning.
It is rich in natural resources that can be extracted for economic returns, but it is also full of places that people belong to. It is rich in knowledge and experience, full of human life, love, humour and grief. It is not a landscape of nothing–rather it is one that is fundamentally known. As the Developing the North white paper states northern Australia is one of “untapped promise, abundant resources and talented people” (Australian Government, 2015a, p. 1).
The largest proportion of Northern Australia’s land mass is classified by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as ‘very remote’. Having a resident population of approximately 94 000 people (ABS, 2012b) the very remote north also provides significant income to those living in other areas, such as consultants, contractors, and fly-in fly-out workforces. Similarly, many Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people living in more populated regions have strong connections to people and places within very remote Australia. Of the 94 000 people permanently residing in very remote Australia, 68 per cent identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander with a significant proportion (64 per cent) of these individuals speaking distinct and diverse Indigenous languages.
It is tempting to view these ‘gaps’ in employment outcomes as simply reflecting disadvantage, particularly educational disadvantage. Yet there has been a steady increase in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander formal education and training achievement, with more and more individuals achieving year 10, 11 and 12 as well as increases in all levels of certificate qualification (Guenther & Boyle, 2013).
It turns out that non-Indigenous people do not hold most of the jobs because they are better educated or trained. In fact 46% of the whole workforce and 36% of the non-Indigenous workforce had not completed a certificate or higher qualification, with many having left formal schooling at year 10 levels. In 2011 there were 46,505 jobs in very remote Australia that required no certificate qualification.
What this tells us is that many Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in very remote Australia are not transitioning from education to employment, nor are they transitioning into employment that does not require formal qualifications. This is significant if we think about the substantial amount of funds and effort directed at disadvantaged job seeker, job activation or ‘job ready’ initiatives.
Our North, whose future: What is the scope for Aboriginal workforce development?
Our North, whose future: What is
the scope for Aboriginal workforce
Eva McRae-Williams & John Guenther
Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic
• Population, Mobility and Labour Markets
• Enduring Community Value from Mining
• Climate Change Adaption and Energy Futures
• Aboriginal Cultural Enterprise
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Economies
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tourism Product
• Carbon Economies in Remote Australia
• Plant Business
• Precision Pastoral Management Tools
Investing in People
• Interplay Project
• Remote Education Systems
• Pathways to Employment
1. What is education for in
remote Australia and what
can/should it achieve?
2. What defines ‘successful’
educational outcomes from
the remote Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander
3. How does teaching need to
change in order to achieve
‘success’ is defined by the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait
4. What would an effective
education system in remote
Australia look like?
1. How do Aboriginal and/or
Torres Strait Islander people
residing in very remote
Australia navigate their way
into meaningful livelihoods?
2. What kinds of work might help
to support sustainable
3. What kinds of learning could
support meaningful livelihood
agendas, aspirations and
Where remote is not far away at all
• Some cool pictures….
Jobs aplenty – but for who?
Employed Unemployed Total population
Non-Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
No ‘Real’ Jobs in Very Remote Australia?
Total number of jobs (place of enumeration): 106, 437
Very Remote Employees
Up to Cert II
Cert III & IV
Source ABS (2011) see Guenther and McRae-Williams (2014) for
breakdowns per industry
Avoiding more of the same becoming creative
• Avoid falling into othering traps which perpetuate myths and false
• Power through local governance and leadership
• Engagement for mutual benefit
• Learning that builds local capacities
• Recognise local standpoints
• Valuing mixed economies
• Value for money experiences, not work for the dole
• Work that leads to training, not the other way around
• Decolonising labour force strategies