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Communities must take wheel for remote Indigenous enterprises

The federal government has urged existing service providers of the now axed Community Jobs Program to ensure Indigenous organisations and communities receive support as it transitions to a new system designed to put them in the driver's seat of Indigenous enterprise.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney on Tuesday wrote to current CJP providers, who operate across 75 per cent of Australia and in more than 1000 remote Indigenous communities, its $707 million program would be activated by September, with extensions and variations to most CDP provider agreements until June 30 next year.

"I would like to thank you for your participation in the initial consultation phase and in testing new approaches to creating jobs," Ms Burney wrote in a letter to providers on Tuesday.

"The learnings from these trials, along with your feedback is contributing to the design of a new program."

The government's overhaul of the "failed" CDP, a remote employment and community development service administered by the National Indigenous Australians Agency, comes after two of the 19 key targets in the Productivity Commission's release last week of its latest Closing the Gap report - on increasing remote Indigenous employment - were not on track.

It is designed to help build remote work forces and reduce reliance on fly-in-fly-out employees, as well as allow communities to dictate how they develop local economies, a labour force strategy and attract investment.

Ms Burney told providers the new program was being developed with First Nations communities and would let them determine local project and job priorities.

"People in remote communities should have access to the benefits and dignity of work - for themselves, their families and the next generation," she wrote.

"Rates of unemployment in remote communities are unacceptable and this is the first step in turning that around."

A further $185 million set aside for communities would let them apply for funding to cover capital and equipment costs for new projects or enterprises, helping build more jobs and sustainable economies.

"The long-term vision is to develop and support a local workforce and empower remote economies," Ms Burney wrote on Tuesday.

Fitzroy Valley resident Patrick Green, a board member of major Kimberley Aboriginal resource centre Marra Worra Worra, told National Indigenous Times the federal government should focus on establishing regional programs, led by local Indigenous leaders, for job creation, rather than a broader approach involving boards and advisers.

"I would like to think that Fitzroy Valley on its own should be a pilot program, and we could quite comfortably employ a lot of our people," he said.

"Marra Worra Worra is responsible for 1,200 people on our books who are unemployed who we could get into jobs.

"Why can't we have projects in the different regions to prove we can deliver what is needed to close the gap in education, health, employment and training?

"We also need to work to minimise the incarceration rates, and get our young people away from getting into contact with the law before they end up incarcerated. Let's give them a future to look forward to by having our region as a jobs pilot program for us to deliver."

CDP participants can expect to transition from its CDP service provider into a paid job with an employer, while others unable to work or needing further support could still access remote services.

Ms Burney said it was critical existing providers helped current participants move into jobs during the current trial and once the program was activated in September.

"I ask you work collaboratively with community organisations delivering jobs and services ... to support closing the gap in employment," she said.

Ms Burney also revealed a new employment service for remote Australia was being developed in parallel with braoder related work including the Employment White Paper, the Inquiry into Workforce Australia Employment Services, reforms to Disability Employment Services and work of the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee.

Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations acting convenor Catherine Liddle said it essential the government put Indigenous people and organisations in charge of tailoring funding specific to community needs.

"The focus of the National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap is shared-decision making and equal partnership, so we look forward to playing a strong role in designing what a future remote employment program looks like," she said.

Ms Burney said the NIAA, which she took to task last year for a series of auditing shortfalls were uncovered after a Australian National Audit Office report, would continue to consult over coming months with providers, who could provide feedback and input to the NIAA by emailing [email protected].

The NIAA would also hold a videoconference with CDP providers tomorrow, ahead of discussions with existing providers over current agreements. More information available here.


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