Warren Mundine's 2012 Yarramundi Lecture

Warren Mundine, Chief Executive Officer of GenerationOne
Friday 29th June 2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m delighted to be here this afternoon and very honoured to be asked to speak at the Yarramundi Lecture. As many of you would know Yarramundi was an Indigenous leader of the Richmond area. I am honoured to stand here today to speak at this event.

I’d like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land we meet on, the Darug (DAH-RUG) People, and to pay my respects to their Elders past and present, particularly those elders that are here today.

I’d also like to acknowledge my own Bundjalung and Gumbayngirr elders.

On Australia Day in 1972, four men took a regular beach umbrella and created the Tent Embassy. It is an image that has been embedded into the history of Australia.

When Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams and Tony Koorie formed the Tent Embassy 40 years ago - they put themselves into the history books and became members of a long line of Aboriginal activists. At the time these activists were fighting for sovereignty, as a displaced nation of Aboriginal peoples.

I was 15 years old at the time, and the Tent Embassy symbolised the broader fight for equality for all Aboriginal people – to enable us to make free and informed choices about our lives, about the lives of our children, and for the generations of Aboriginal people to come after them.

We must pay tribute to what the Tent Embassy activists did for us. Their radicalism, and the activism of the people that joined them, brought Aboriginal Rights into the national spotlight. The radicalism of the Tent Embassy was necessary at the time and matched the size of the change that was needed in this country.

But in 2012, radicalism has now moved to the fringes of activism – and I think that is a positive step forward for all Australians. Earlier this year we saw the impact that radical activism had. On Australia Day this year we saw a small number of people hijack the Tent Embassy for their own agenda which resulted in ugly scenes in Canberra, including security guards whisking our Prime Minister away into a car, losing her shoe on the way.

These scenes were broadcast all over the country, and all around the world. When those scenes unfolded in Canberra the message of what these activists were calling for was lost in the chaos.

This only damaged the reputation of our country and these radical activists negatively portrayed all Aboriginal people, nationally and internationally.

When a small number of sovereignty activists called for people to take to the streets a very small number of people showed up. Like most other people, the majority of Aboriginal people were home with their families, preparing their kids for the coming school term or getting ready for work the next day.

Forty years on, and what most people really want to see and want to be part of, is a positive change that allows all Australians to play a role in education, employment, economic development and ending the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

And in honouring the spirit of the Tent Embassy forty years later it is up to us, the whole of Australia, to take the opportunities that are now available because of the people who fought for us. We must take those opportunities with both hands, and make them our reality.

When I got the phone call from Andrew Forrest about becoming the CEO of GenerationOne – I knew it was the next logical thing for me to take on. I believe there is only one way to tackle welfare dependency in Indigenous communities and that's to give people the best alternative – a career.

GenerationOne is a national movement of people that believe that employment may not change everything but without it nothing will change. This isn’t radical, but it works.

Employment is the single most important factor to economic development and we want Aboriginal people to be training and working in the roles that were seen to be untouchable for so long. As more and more of our young people graduate and become doctors, lawyers, teachers, and political leaders, our focus must remain on those who believe there is no opportunity for them in the modern economy. We must bust that myth, and shake the cycle of hopelessness by helping our people to believe in themselves, and the power they have to live the change they want to see. The change that the Tent Embassy activists and others like them, fought so hard to achieve.

For the first time in our nation’s history – employers from across Australia have come together through the Australian Employment Covenant to build a demand for an Indigenous workforce.

The 330 employers that have signed covenants are from a wide range of industries: government, hospitality, corporate, education, retail and telecommunications and many more. From the boardrooms to the shopfronts – employers have committed 62,600 jobs, 10,670 people have already taken up the opportunities, with a 70% retention rate to 6 months.

And governments are working towards ending the disparity with us.

The time for welfare reform is now. We need to campaign to help people take up employment and end the handouts that tie them to government – the belief that government will fix all their problems. By embracing the spirit of the tent embassy, employment and education become the drivers, with employers enabling people to move off welfare and into employment. Government is a critical partner, and through their policies, must act as an enabler, not an inhibitor. Welfare should not be a safety net, it should be a trampoline – sending people back into employment and self determination.

Warren Mundine didn’t arrive here in a vacuum. I got here because my grandfather got a job as a rural worker. Not a pretty job. Not a high paying job. My grandfather got up in the morning, went to work, finished work in the afternoon and went home. He gave his money to my grandmother who paid the bills, fed the kids, kept the house clean and sent the kids to school.

My father grew up thinking that was normal. When he left school, he got a job as a plant operator. He got up in the morning, went to work, finished work in the afternoon and went home. He married and when he got home he gave his money to my mother who paid the bills, fed the kids, kept the house clean and sent the kids to school.

I grew up thinking that was normal. When I left school, I got a job as a factory worker and trained as a fitter and turner. I got up in the morning, went to work, finished work in the afternoon and went home. I married and when I got home I gave…..some of my money to my wife who paid the bills, fed the kids, kept the house clean and sent the kids to school.

My children grew up thinking that was normal. When they left school, half of them went to uni and half of them went into trades. Half of my children own their own business. They get up in the morning, go to work, finish work in the afternoon and go home. In their world there is no concept of not working or not getting an education.

That is 4 generations of employment because my grandfather got a job.

After 2 years of consultation with Indigenous people, employers and governments in January this year GenerationOne launched the Skills and Training for a Career: Vocational Training and Employment Centres Policy. This policy calls for governments to stop pouring funding into employment programs that do not lead to jobs for Indigenous people.

The VTEC model advocates for employer-directed training, this means, the process identifies an employer with a specific job, finds an Indigenous jobseeker and then trains them to meet the needs of the role and start their career. This would be the reverse of the current process, which identifies the person, then the training and then hopes there will be a job. As one employer told us, training for training’s sake “is like jumping through hoops of hope”.

The VTEC model has been used in Western Australia to ensure that Indigenous people who have been long term unemployed can be supported into employment.

GenerationOne and the AEC have jointly called on the Government to fund four Vocational Training and Employment Centres as a trial, with the hope of developing 25 VTEC sites around the country to ensure that the opportunity to engage in the country’s economy is open to all people, that training leading to real jobs and opportunities is open to all our children.

If we take a step back and examine the big picture, the activism of our forefathers has contributed to the climate of change that we are currently living in. The education of our children is crucial and just as important as supporting their parents and families into employment.

37% of all Indigenous people in Australia are under the age of 15. We have a generation of people who are aspiring to be the next generation of professionals, politicians, tradespeople and educators. Perhaps the more important role that each of those people will play is inspiring other young Indigenous people to take up the challenge of building a career, undertaking training and changing the destructive stereotype that is often portrayed in the media.

One of the key roles of GenerationOne is to share success stories about employment, education and training – showcasing people and organisations that have taken the opportunities and made the choice to move from welfare to work.

In December 2011 GenerationOne published the Case Studies of Success. This document showcases 6 of the many employers who are working with the Australian Employment Covenant to end the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The preemployment programs and supported mentoring that are taking place in businesses like Woolworths have seen over 350 people move through the pre employment training and into employment.

These are the opportunities our people are seizing, these are the opportunities that our children are taking up and our people will continue to be the change that we want to see – and in the spirit of the Tent Embassy, they too will take up the challenge facing their generation.

Thank you