Noel Pearson has been more subdued publicly since the election of the Rudd government, with far fewer opinion pieces written for The Australian. I have been fearful that real indigenous policy reform, which Pearson leads, might have stalled at the Federal level - despite the ongoing welfare reform gains in Queensland. Pearson and Rudd have an antagonistic history going back to Rudd's "Dr Death" days in Queensland politics.
So, it's great to see today's announcement about an initiative from Andrew Forrest (Australia's wealthiest person) to guarantee 50,000 indigenous jobs within two years. And that this initiative has the full support of the Rudd government.
Pearson's article: Off welfare, upstairs to work
Note Pearson's staircase metaphor of welfare and his looking ahead proposal to extend the Queensland reforms:
A work opportunity covenant should be available to any indigenous person whether living in Blacktown, Sydney, or Aurukun, Cape York. Wherever an individual seeks to climb the staircase to a better life through work, they should be backed.Another report: Twiggy eyes 50,000 Aboriginal Jobs
If you can imagine the first steps on a staircase, with the first step being higher than the second. This first step upon which too many of our people are situated we call the welfare pedestal. The price on this pedestal is higher than the price on the real staircase: that is why our young people choose to stay there. Remaining on welfare, under the prevailing incentives offered by the welfare system, is a rational choice. The problem is that the small comforts of the pedestal become a permanent destination. And our people are perpetually condemned to missing out on sharing in the country's wealth, not least in the mining boom occurring in our back yards.
So it is the first step downwards that is the most bracing step. It requires a decision on the part of communities to embrace welfare reforms so that our people can step down from the pedestal and start climbing the staircase of opportunity. Four communities in Cape York Peninsula have charted these reforms for their people.
Even where communities have yet to embrace welfare reforms, the Rudd Government should enable individuals - wherever they are - to opt in to welfare reforms that apply to them as individuals. A work opportunity covenant should represent a deal between an indigenous individual, a corporate employer, and the federal Government. Under this covenant, the individual would commit to certain welfare reform conditions, the federal Government would commit to providing training and other support, and the employer would commit to the guaranteed job opportunity.
I like this touch from Andrew Forrest:
At the end of the press conference, Mr Forrest gathered Mr Pearson, Sir Rod, Mr Mundine and Mr Rudd into a semi-circle and called on them to place their hands on top of his.
When they did Mr Forrest, said: "This is the Australian Employment Covenant."