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PM's indigenous approach too narrow, says leader

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Tony Abbott needs to “get out of his Cape York approach” to indigenous issues, says his chief adviser on indigenous affairs, Warren Mundine.

The Prime Minister needed to recognise other approaches to ending Aboriginal disadvantage, Mundine told a housing conference in Adelaide on Thursday.

Abbott is a strong supporter of Cape York indigenous leader Noel Pearson. Abbott plans to ask Pearson to review and reform the education of disadvantaged indigenous and non-indigenous children, according to one report.

“There’s also a problem we have with the Prime Minister as well, it is that he has a Cape York approach,” Mundine told the conference.

“We need to get him out of the Cape York approach. He has to get out, and he has to get out into other communities and look around at the vast difference of indigenous Australia about things.”

Pearson has led reform efforts in Cape York which focus on individual responsibility. His welfare reform trial linked school attendance to welfare payments, and he has attacked “passive welfare” in Aboriginal communities.

Mundine, a former Labor Party president (although no longer a member of the party), will chair Abbott’s newly-established Indigenous Advisory Council.

A chairman of the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, he used a speech last week at the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute in Adelaide to lay out the economic-development-led philosophy that will guide him in the role.

“We look at education, we look at housing and a number of other fields.

“People in the education sphere look at education as education. But we will be looking at it as how does this create jobs, how does this create economy, how does this create people who are job ready for the global job marketplace.”

Jobs in Aboriginal communities needed to be generated by the small business sector, not government, Mundine said.

Governments needed to focus their efforts on helping private enterprise generate those jobs, rather than developing skills in communities for jobs that didn’t exist.

“We found there were a lot of Aboriginal people with training. In fact … when we used to go into areas and look for indigenous people to work we found people with more certificates and trained in more areas than a Harvard law professor has, but none of them had ever had a job.

“So there seemed to be a lot of training going on in communities but no job at the end of the day.

“Most of the jobs we did see in Aboriginal communities were government jobs or government-funded jobs, and we need to move out of that area.”

Using the example of Aboriginal art – now in global demand – Mundine said Aboriginal communities needed to join not just the local economy but the global one.

While the Rudd and Gillard governments had been well-intentioned, their Aboriginal policies had failed because they hadn’t put Aboriginal people at the centre of them.

“We need proper engagement with indigenous people on the ground. Some of the policies of the previous government weren’t too bad, but they seemed to sideline Aboriginal people in the whole process, I think that was its major failing.

“We need to bring them back into the process.”

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