President’s column – 4 June 2021

Local governments employ a higher proportion of Indigenous Australians than other government sectors – 4.5 percent versus about 2.3 percent for the state, territory, and federal governments.

Councils are at ground zero in facilitating and growing local economies (and jobs), so it is not surprising we should be leading the way in improving employment outcomes for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in remote regions.

Whether developing useful and productive jobs in community amenity and environmental care, or partnering with other governments in undertaking maintenance programs, or providing new infrastructure, councils punch well above their weight in enhancing the economic and social well-being of remote indigenous communities.

We might have expected Indigenous employment participation rates to have improved since the figures above were published in ALGA’s Local Government Workforce and Future Skills Report 2018.

Unfortunately, it’s likely fewer Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are now employed in local government in the Northern Territory and outback Queensland.

This is not because councils have dropped the ball but because federal government funding for housing maintenance in the Northern Territory has been withdrawn and key recurrent grants in Queensland removed.

The scrapping of the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) program and its replacement by the Community Development Program (CDP) has not helped either.

National Reconciliation Week 2021 just ended reminds us that local government must remain steadfast in pursuing solutions to Indigenous disadvantage, whether it be in education, housing, health, or job creation.

Sustained employment and adequate social infrastructure are critical to the economic and social well-being of all Australians.

While Indigenous councils are highly motivated to improve their communities’ access to jobs and adequate municipal services, they are often stymied by a lack of access to resources, including own-source rate revenue.

ALGA’s advocacy for greater federal financial support for local government benefits enormously when the voices of these indigenous councils and their elected officials are heard in Canberra.

That is why our Nation General Assembly this month features keynote addresses from Tom Calma and Pat Turner AM, among the most articulate and compelling of our Indigenous leaders.

Professor Calma is co-chair of Reconciliation Australia with a special interest in Indigenous education, employment, and training programs

Pat Turner is chief executive of NACCHO and was influential in negotiating a new framework for the Closing the Gap strategy in her role as convener of the Coalition of Peaks, an alliance of more than 50 Indigenous peak bodies.

Their championing of shared decision-making and community-owned and led solutions closely mirrors local government’s credo, and their addresses should not be missed.

Linda Scott,
ALGA President