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Forrest accuses Canberra of reneging on indigenous jobs

Mining billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest's bid to close the gap in employment rates between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia has passed a key milestone, having placed more than 10,000 aboriginal people into jobs.

Mr Forrest, the chairman of Fortescue Metals Group, signed the covenant with then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in August 2008, with the ambitious target of creating 50,000 jobs for indigenous people within 2 years.

Since then, 330 employers have have committed to 61,000 employment opportunities for indigenous Australians.

But Mr Forrest said more of these positions were not being filled by indigenous jobseekers because the Federal Government was not upholding its commitment to provide job-specific training to prepare aboriginal candidates for the jobs.

"The Federal Government's commitment was to ensure the Indigenous job-seekers were trained to be ready to fill the 50,000 jobs and to the detriment of willing employees and employers, it is not happening," he said.

Australian Employment Covenant chief executive Rhonda Parker said 10,501 indigenous Australians were now off welfare and working as a result of its efforts.


She said six months after starting in their jobs, more than 71 per cent of indigenous workers placed through the scheme remain in their positions.

This contrasts with three-month retention rates for indigenous staff placed through mainstream job services providers of less than 50 per cent.

Ms Parker described the Commonwealth's job services system as a ''roundabout of failure" for  jobseekers.

"Unfortunately training purely for training's sake' is still the experience of many frustrated Indigenous job seekers," she said

"Many larger employers are forced to build their own pre-employment programs to ensure a job-ready supply of Indigenous candidates.  Although the federal government has limited funds available for employer-driven, job specific training, the bureaucratic process takes too much time and paperwork.  The process just wears some employers down.''

Fortescue has around 350 indigenous employees and plans to reach 500 indigenous employees by the end of the year. More than 1000 indigenous people have been placed in jobs, including with other employers, through its vocational training centre.

Mr Forrest will this week address the National Press Club in Canberra on the challenge of ending the disparity in employment outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

"We now have the means to break the cycle of welfare dependency," he said. 

"We must not fail.  We can only win the battle if all parties to the covenant meet their commitments.  The Covenant employers and Indigenous

Australians are living up to their commitments, the Federal Government must do the same because it is morally, socially and economically unjustifiable to let the current system of poorly targeted training continue when the AEC has proven job specific training works." 

The Federal Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development, Julie Collins, said the government through its Indigenous

Employment Program had already provided nearly $132 million in direct assistance to 73 Covenant employers to help them fill the jobs pledged under the Covenant.

She said in two and a half years, the government had achieved 75,500 placements for indigenous Australians, including more than 32,800 employment placements.

Ms Collins said the government's $1.5 billion remote jobs and communities program, announced last week, was aimed directly at making sure training leads to real jobs.

Under the new program, a permanent, locally-based provider will work with communities to develop economic and community development goals which will guide training and employment services.

Indigenous Affairs Correspondent Dan Harrison travelled  to the Pilbara as a guest of the Fortescue Metals Group