Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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HomeVolume 28Aboriginal jobs: Time for action, not talk says Cr Marli Banks

Aboriginal jobs: Time for action, not talk says Cr Marli Banks


More than a third of the Alice Springs population, some 10,000 people, identify as Indigenous but less than 5% of the Town Council workforce of about 300 is Aboriginal, according to Cr Marli Banks.

This makes a mockery of commitments such as the council’s Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan (PR photo at top).

It’s time the council did something about this – and then some, says Cr Banks (pictured).

Half the town’s population is expected to be Indigenous in 15 years’ time “as families strengthen and grow,” an ABS source had told her. 

At census time Alice Springs had an Aboriginal unemployment rate of about 37% compared to the national average or 3.5% now, she says. 

[The table in the 2021 census report presenting the region summary, Alice Springs, labour force status for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, does not give 2021 details. It gives these 2016 details: Total labour force employed 87.7%. Total labour force unemployed 12.1%. Labour force participation rate 50.3%. Not in the labour force 49.7%. Total census responding population employed 44.1%. A further statistic “Employment status: People who reported being in the labour force, aged 15 years and over” puts the unemployment rate for Alice Springs and the nation at 5.1%.]

Cr Banks will present a motion at next week’s council meeting for an advisory body to be formed that has a majority of Aboriginal people, a man and a woman from each of the three native title estates, Mparntwe, Antulye and Irlpme.

The Mayor, Deputy Mayor and three elected members would come from the council.

The group would meet four times a year.

The scheme would allow for “further inclusions through a staged consultation process that may include, but not be limited to, the presidents of the Alice Springs town camps” and would develop an Indigenous workforce strategy within the first 12 months.

Cr Banks says the council has a Memorandum of Understanding with Lhere Artepe, the local native title corporation, and with the Tangentyere Council.

However, “the frequency of meetings between the agencies has been very intermittent,” says Cr Banks.

There is a potential workforce that council may be able to tap into by developing a culturally appropriate workplace strategy, acknowledging that local decision making is critical.

“It cannot be generalised that lack of skill and qualification are leading factors of unemployment, as Indigenous people often hold many certificates and qualifications, yet due to cultural and other factors are prevented from taking the first steps towards conventional employment.

“It would be worthwhile to better understand the obstacles that are preventing council from reaching higher percentages of Indigenous people in the workforce,” says Cr Banks.

“There is anecdotal evidence that supporting employees leads to higher retention and workplace satisfaction which would be of benefit to council overall.”

PHOTO at top from the council website. The caption is: “Alice Springs Town Council Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan, 2019 – 2021. Building a better future through relationships, respect, opportunities and governance.” The council’s employment record suggests this “action plan” is still far from being action.


  1. I completely agree. However, government actions in this area over many years, have been nothing short of pathetic.
    If progress is to be made, as Erwin has previously pointed out with respect to tourism, it needs to rapidly involve Aboriginal people being able to utilise their vast and wonderful land assets in joint venture arrangements with Non-Indigenous finance and skills.
    That is, we need to work together in a real and practical demonstration of true reconciliation. This is likely to be far more important and effective than another “voice” to government.

  2. More accurately, Erwin has asked for Aboriginal entrepreneurs to develop such assets. However there are a range of experienced skilled non-Indigenous entrepreneurs also available to pursue joint venture arrangements.
    These joint venture arrangements would have to selected and monitored closely to ensure Aboriginal people were not exploited.

  3. I agree with Ted Egan and Don Fuller. Reconciliation as a vehicle for closer cultural ties need to be retro-fitted, but Senator Pat Dodson, “the father of reconciliation” has jumped ship to promote the Voice, in which the PM is still considering terms of reference. Cr Banks’s Advisory Body is pragmatic in the first instance, without resort to emotional blackmail.

  4. “An advisory body to … develop an Indigenous workforce strategy” sounds like Time for Talk.
    Action would be for the native title estates, town camps, and Tangentyere Council to create a pool of potential employees for various job types.
    If those entities made such a pool available to other employers, I would use it.

  5. Don’t do it Marli.
    This has been trialled in several organisations for decades with very little to show for it.
    After the talkfest the recommendations will include:
    Paid leave for sorry business and funerals.
    Perhaps paid leave to visit family and country.
    Very flexible working hours.
    These measures will ultimately cost ratepayers and increase the already high rates we pay.
    Having two sets of conditions in a single workplace has a lot of potential to create conflict and fuel racism.
    Increasing Aboriginal employment by way of a culturally friendly council workplace could have very large costs.

  6. @ Susan Sidler. Descendants of the Industrial Revolution versus an agrarian / hunter gatherer lifestyle meet in the Alice Springs employment market.
    Sorry business is a cultural obligation, funerals are bi-cultural.
    These things can be accommodated within a mediated environment and arbitrated.
    Paid leave to visit family and country is a liberty. So are very flexible working hours, but we already have that to an extent.
    I agree that cultural difference is an issue, but not insurmountable.
    In fact, it’s where the rubber meets the road and has been within the cattle industry for a very long time.

  7. @ Russell Guy: My estimation from the remote cohort I am familiar with is that they attend about six sorry business / funeral events each year. The duration is from a few days to more than a month for each of them.
    They could attend far more but choose to not attend those for more distant relatives. But in workplaces I am familiar with payment for sorry business increases the attendance at these events.
    Sorry business leave is not a negotiable, is the council really going to argue the point about which ones Aboriginal staff should attend?
    The likely result of Marli’s initiative, if endorsed, is that Aboriginal council workers will be entitled to numerous, lengthy paid periods away from the workplace.
    As Susan Sadler points out this needs careful consideration.
    Very surprised to see you laud the cattle industry which has a very low rate of Aboriginal participation (and declining) even where large communities are situated on cattle grazing tenements.

  8. As the photo caption above points out,the objectives and strategy that Cr Banks proposes to develop are already in place.
    To add a bit more detail: The “Alice Springs Town Council Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan, 2019 – 2021” includes actions to:
    • Increase the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff employed in our workforce.
    • Review HR and recruitment procedures and policies to remove barriers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in our workplace.
    • Develop and implement an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recruitment, retention and professional development strategy.
    • Establish and maintain an effective Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Working Group to drive governance of the RAP.
    This Working Group may not yet exist, but the RAP points out that “Council has a formal Partnership Agreement in place with Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation” and “a Memorandum of Understanding with Tangentyere Council … to enhance outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
    Implementation of the above actions are part of the Alice Springs Town Council’s Adopted Municipal Plan for 2019-20 that includes “Strategic Objective 4 – Dynamic Council” for “A well governed Council that leads by example, advocates for our community, innovates and delivers excellent services, and works with others collaboratively to help create the community we want to live in.”
    Under that “Dynamic Council” objective are four outcomes, and this key indicator for achieving these outcomes:
    “Rolling out the Council endorsed Reconciliation Publication during 2019/2020 with clear progressive measurable targets, strategies and actions achieving increased level of employment of Indigenous Australians in Council positions.”
    These actions were to be completed two to three years ago. So it seems a new policy is not needed, rather the “Dynamic Council” just needs to fully implement the reconciliation indicator in its municipal plan. One step can be to create the working group which it already endorsed.

  9. @ Ralph Folds: Re your reference to “lengthy paid periods away from the workplace.”
    I wrote that this consideration would require mediation and/or arbitration. Perhaps, even an enterprise agreement.
    I’m not agreeing to a carte blanch arrangement, but a fair work contract.
    Numerous informed commentators of late have referred to an education and employment focus. Cr Banks is having a go, like I did for a decade.
    Re your reference to the cattle industry. I only know what I see and that is Aboriginal workers obtaining stock work.
    I’m not saying that it is permanent, widespread, increasing or decreasing. I did say that it had a very long record, but most people know the circumstances of how that came to an end.
    Being future-focussed, I’m confident that Cr Banks can craft something or even develop standing orders into that basic dignity of having a job.


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