The ACTU, formed in 1927, is the peak body for Australian unions and is the only national union confederation in Australia. For more than 90 years, the ACTU has played the leading role in advocating for the rights and conditions of working people and their families. The ACTU is made up of 39 affiliated unions and trades and labour councils, and we represent almost 2 million working people across all industries. The ACTU prides itself on its long history of advocacy for and support of Indigenous Australians and is therefore grateful for the opportunity to provide a submission to this inquiry.

This inquiry, titled ‘Pathways and Participation Opportunities For Indigenous Australians In Employment And Business appears to have followed the sage advice offered by Sir Humphrey Appleby to Minister Hacker in the first episode of the BBC sitcom Yes, Minister – namely that government should always try to “dispose of the difficult bit in the title”. This title handwaves away an extraordinary amount of complexity and a number of assumptions that have helped to underpin decades of failure in this policy area. What is needed is a fundamental rethink of what we mean when we talk about indigenous participation in ‘the economy’ and how we conceive of ‘work’ in the context of indigenous communities.

Government needs to work with indigenous communities to develop a shared understanding and aspiration for economic activity and existing programs, which are currently considered by the community to be working, need to be expanded.  It must also be accepted that there are a number of serious and persistent barriers to participation by indigenous Australians in any form of economic activity.