Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s GenerationOne movement is a “pernicious smokescreen” which won’t further the rights of Aboriginal people, say indigenous rights activists opposed to the campaign.
Supported by corporate heavyweights Kerry Stokes, James Packer, The Lowy family and Lindsay Fox, GenerationOne aims to “end the disparity between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians”. It’s linked to Forrest’s Australian Employment Covenant which is seeking to create 50,000 jobs for Aboriginal people by next year. The campaign launched its television advertising campaign on Sunday evening to an estimated audience of six million.
Noted indigenous rights campaigner Robbie Thorpe will speak at a rally in Melbourne today as part of a national day of protest against the federal government’s Northern Territory intervention policy. He says there are more important matters than Forrest’s campaign that need to be addressed.
“We need our fundamental human rights recognised instead of this working for the man sh-t,” Thorpe told Crikey. “[Forrest] is raping the land for billions of dollars, where’s he been previously?”
Sharon Firebrace, spokeperson for the Melbourne Anti-Intervention Collective, agrees. GenerationOne has been a “failure in the past” and it’s time for Aboriginal people to start speaking out on the issue, she says.
“Jobs for Aboriginal people will be delivered through fighting against the interests of the people like Andrew Forrest and challenging this government,” Firebrace told Crikey.”The launch of this campaign, with the support of Adam Bandt, Aboriginal elders, and unions, is a challenge to business and this government.”
According to the campaign website, GenerationOne aims to promote organisations that are “doing good work” in the areas of education, training, mentoring and employment.
The Australian Employment Covenant, also set up by Forrest, encourages employers to pledge jobs for indigenous people by registering on a website. Currently, the AEC website boasts it represent 170 employers in more than 15 industry sectors.
Freshly-elected MP Adam Bandt will also speak at the event in Melbourne. He says that while GenerationOne may not be the silver bullet that solves indigenous disadvantage, it remains a worthwhile campaign.
“We support the motives and intention of the GenerationOne campaign — and commend any campaign which draws attention to the issue of closing the gap,” he told Crikey. “It’s important to make sure that measures to reduce the gap tackle the real underlying cause of disadvantage.”
But according to Firebrace, the GenerationOne website fails to mention land rights, dispossession, racism and the “ongoing genocide that lies at the heart of Aboriginal disadvantage”.
“These issues need to be discussed seriously, well before Aboriginal people commit to Fortescue’s ‘brave new world’ solution,” she said. “We need to have Aboriginal people discussing this and the implications of it.”
Furthermore, Firebrace says the NT intervention, introduced by the Howard government in 2007 in response to the Little Children are Sacred report, has failed to deliver jobs for Aboriginal communities.
The group is angry over cuts to the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), which they say has led to the loss of thousands of jobs, and the implementation of a quarantine on Centrelink payments in some indigenous communities. Last week workers at the small townships of Kalkaringi and Dagaragu in the Victoria River district of the Northern Territory went on strike over pay and conditions, claiming the federal government had not provided enough jobs to replace cuts to the CDEP.
Bandt told Crikey the Greens will seek reform of the intervention, in particular the full reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act: “Senator Rachel Siewert has introduced into the Senate the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Restoration of Racial Discrimination Act) Bill 2010 and we hope to progress that through the parliament.”
Firebrace says the creation of jobs and employment is not the be all and end all for Aboriginal people: “It is not the answer and the solution for Aboriginal people in remote communities. Andrew Forrest’s GenerationOne project has been a failure in the past. And it will continue to be the pernicious smokescreen it was set out to be.”