An advocate for education and a strong economy, Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO believes the only way to Close the Gap is through economic participation.

Recently publishing a paper on COVID-19’s effects on Indigenous communities, Mundine’s It’s the Economy, Stupid: Economic participation only way to Close the Gap discusses what needs to be done during and after COVID-19 to retain Indigenous jobs and keep people above the poverty line.

“Only a couple of things … work on getting people out of poverty … economy, jobs and a business sector that creates the jobs,” said Mundine, a proud Bundjalung, Yuin and Gumbaynggirr man.

“It’s about education, jobs and businesses … that make money and create those jobs.”

Speaking of the pitfalls of the Commonwealth’s Closing the Gap strategy, Mundine said the focus should be on Indigenous people achieving parity with the rest of Australia—not achieving targets that only get 50 or 60 percent of the way to completion.

“I think Closing the Gap is a good thing … the problem we’re having is the original Closing the Gap [strategy] was only half targets and we weren’t reaching those targets,” he said.

“It’s great to have a target, but then you have to have the resources to reach that target.”

Mundine said the first step to increasing economic participation by Indigenous people and reaching targets is increasing school attendance for Indigenous children.

“[Education] is the foundation of any society in regards to how it … gets people skilled and job ready for the future,” he said.

With a good education under their belts, young Indigenous people can begin their job search better qualified.

While entrepreneurship and small business are valued in the economy, Mundine said for most this isn’t the number one priority for people looking to participate in the economy.

“For 99 percent of the population it’s not about just running a business—it’s about a job,” said Mundine.

“How do we shift more Indigenous people into that competitive marketplace of jobs? The only way to do that is education and training, getting people skilled.”

While the pathway seems clear, Mundine is aware employment isn’t always easy. He believes extra support is necessary for increasing economic participation by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“You [need to] concentrate on all the issues that stop people from getting into jobs,” he said.

“Numeracy and literacy issues, domestic violence issues, drug and alcohol issues, homelessness issues.”

As COVID-19 continues, Mundine believes the government should refocus on school attendance, reform welfare, jobs and business, and build better economies in remote Australia.

“The government creates the environment for investment … Australia is built on investment,” he said.

“We need to look at the red tape in regards to what’s stopping things. I think we’re over-governed, quite frankly.

“We have to go through all these hoops to get things done. We need to simplify this system so it’s easier to invest and get a return on the investment.”

Warren Mundine is hosting a webinar discussion on his paper It’s the Economy, Stupid: Economic participation only way to Close the Gap on Wednesday July 22 at 7pm AEST. To stream via Facebook, visit: https://www.facebook.com/nyunggai.

By Hannah Cross