12.4.1 Economic opportunities
12.4.2 Employment, skills and training
12.4.3 Access to energy
Much of Australia’s large-scale energy resources is in regional and remote Australia, where the sector provides good opportunities for Indigenous Australians through employment and Indigenous business development.
The disadvantages experienced by many Indigenous Australians are well documented. Their ;general social and economic opportunities and employment participation rates fall well below those of other Australians.
To overcome barriers to Indigenous participation, the Australian and state and territory governments, as part of COAG’s Indigenous Reform Agreement, are implementing various programs under the national Closing the Gap policy framework.
COAG recognises that overcoming Indigenous disadvantage will require a sustained commitment from all levels of government to work together and with Indigenous Australians, directing major effort to seven action areas or 'building blocks', of which economic participation is one.
The Indigenous Economic Development Strategy 2011–2018 sets out a long-term agenda for Indigenous economic participation that will guide government decision-making and program development through to 2018.8
The contributions that the energy sector is able to make to the strategy and the Closing the Gap objectives are in the areas of employment, skills and training; economic opportunities; and access to energy.
12.4.1 Economic opportunities
Where energy sector development is underway or proposed, opportunities for Indigenous communities can be provided through land-use conditions set out in agreements under the native title or lands rights regimes. Of the 527 agreements on the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements, around one-third cover energy and resource sector activity. The benefits include royalty or native title payments, income for Indigenous business enterprises, wages income, training and education, and cultural heritage protection.
One of the government’s main policy objectives in this area is to encourage the making of agreements that are sustainable, workable and provide long-term benefits to Indigenous Australians.
Through their reconciliation action plans, companies in the resources sector (including energy resources) have delivered more than $800 million in supply contracts for Indigenous businesses (Australian Government 2011c). The banking sector has also developed initiatives to support Indigenous enterprise establishment.
In the private sector, more than 200 reconciliation action plans are supporting training, employment and other actions benefiting Indigenous Australians. Through the plans, organisations have committed to recruiting more than 8300 Indigenous Australians and have already placed an estimated 5300 (Australian Government 2011c).
In addition to energy resources projects, Australian Government initiatives under the Clean Energy Plan may create new opportunities for Indigenous business and employment through carbon farming, solar, geothermal and bioenergy projects, and related services and infrastructure.
Indigenous businesses are demonstrating their commercial sustainability. For example, Indigenous Business Australia has found that, among its clients, 65% of Indigenous businesses are still operating after five years, compared to only 50% of all small businesses (Fry 2011).
A number of Indigenous enterprise development organisations have been established in recent years. Nationally, Aboriginal Enterprises in Mining, Exploration and Energy Limited seeks to commercially advance Aboriginal-owned enterprises in Australia and internationally. Regional Indigenous organisations, such as the Pilbara Aboriginal Contractors Association and the Bowen Basin Indigenous Mining Contractors, have been created.
Indigenous economic opportunities are also being enhanced by energy sector companies’ workplace diversity policies and corporate policies to promote Indigenous enterprise. The annual reports of ASX-listed companies operating in the energy sector indicate that many companies have strategies for Indigenous employment and enterprise development, and workplace cultural programs to support the retention of Indigenous employees.
12.4.2 Employment, skills and training
Energy projects and the business opportunities they create are offering important opportunities for jobs and training. Indigenous employment in the energy sector is broadly supported by existing employment measures, such as the Indigenous Employment Program. As a result of the program, more than 16 000 Indigenous Australians started employment during 2010, another 12 500 started training and more than 700 projects were established.
Industry initiatives, such as scholarship programs, offered by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, support Indigenous education in sector-related engineering disciplines and mentoring by Indigenous graduates of other Indigenous Australians.
The Australian Employment Covenant is also a national industry-led initiative. It brings all Australians together to help close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in employment and employment opportunities. The mining and energy industries have committed to providing many of the 50 000 Australian Employment Covenant job opportunities on offer for suitably qualified Indigenous Australians.
In May 2009, the Australian Government and the Minerals Council of Australia agreed to the new Memorandum of Understanding on Indigenous Employment and Enterprise Development, which is an important conduit for collaboration between Australian Government departments and the Minerals Council.
The memorandum of understanding provides for high-level strategic engagement and collaboration with the mining industry. It aims to foster links between employers and government programs to more effectively address barriers experienced by Indigenous Australians in accessing employment and business development opportunities through the resources sector and related industries. This work is supported by a coordinator network in the East Kimberley, Pilbara, south-west Western Australia, Wiluna, Alice Springs and western Cape York.
12.4.3 Access to energy
Achieving many of the objectives under the Closing the Gap agenda will depend on Indigenous households and communities having reliable, safe and efficient energy.
Some larger Indigenous communities that are connected to the power grid operate under the same service delivery arrangements as non-Indigenous communities. However, some experience interruptions to supply, particularly as a result of increasing population, which is also a common problem in some non-Indigenous regional towns.
In non-grid-connected communities such as remote townships, outstations and homelands, energy is often provided through diesel generators, solar arrays, wind generators or combinations of technology. Energy infrastructure is usually funded through both state and territory and Australian Government programs, and service provision can be by major service providers, resource agencies, shire councils, community councils and self-managed community services. Under these arrangements, power services are generally less reliable and infrastructure is not adequately maintained.
The Australian Government’s Remote Indigenous Energy Program began service delivery 1 July 2012, and the first systems will be on the ground by 30 June 2013. The program builds on the previous work of the Bushlight program delivered by the Centre for Appropriate Technology (see Box 12.2).
Box 12.2: Improving energy supply for Indigenous communities
The Centre for Appropriate Technology is a non-profit organisation that provides technical advice and services to Indigenous communities throughout regional and remote Australia.
The centre has been working with Indigenous communities for over 30 years and has worked with more than 260 communities in remote central and northern Australia to improve their energy services. One of the strategies to assist communities is the community energy planning model, which sets out a step-by-step energy process. The model can easily be replicated, which provides a consistent approach across each community.
The Bushlight program delivered:
- reliable and sustainable energy supplies through the design, installation and maintenance of renewable energy systems
- training and energy-efficiency education
- support for local enterprise and activity development.
Bushlight installed over 140 renewable energy systems in more than 120 communities. In recent years, the program also developed many large community systems using either stand-alone solar or solar-diesel hybrid technology.
Building on Bushlight, the Australian Government is providing funding of $40 million over five years for the Remote Indigenous Energy Program to install renewable energy systems in up to 50 smaller remote Indigenous communities in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The program will also deliver energy-efficiency education, training in basic system maintenance and repairs and maintenance to existing systems.
Sustainability, workforce and Indigenous opportunities policy actions
The Australian Government will work with industry and state and territory governments to ensure an efficient and effective interface between energy and environmental policy frameworks, including by:
- implementing announced reforms to the EPBC Act and other environmental measures, such as those relating to new coal-seam gas and coal developments
- promoting effective consultation with local communities in the development and deployment of technologies or projects
- reducing duplication and double handling of environment assessments and approvals processes, while maintaining high environmental standards.
Recognising the importance of effective coordinated action to address skills and workforce development proactively, the government will:
- continue to work with the energy sector and the skills, training and education sectors to implement current workplace development and participation measures, including actions under the National Resources Sector Workforce Strategy
- continue to review the National Resources Sector Workforce Strategy, in order to identify opportunities and undertake further action to ensure sufficient skilled labour is available to meet the continued growth of the resources sector
- consult with industry, government, unions and communities on future opportunities to promote project-based outcomes.
Recognising the contribution that the energy sector can make to support national Closing the Gap objectives, the Australian Government will continue to:
- support industry initiatives arising from the National Resources Sector Workforce Strategy that facilitate Indigenous participation in workforce planning, and skills and training opportunities and initiatives arising from the Memorandum of Understanding on Indigenous Employment and Enterprise Development with the Minerals Council of Australia
- encourage jurisdictions to periodically report through the SCER on energy supply and use issues in Indigenous communities, including plans and actions taken to address energy access issues
- support the development of workable native title and other land-use agreements between project proponents and Indigenous communities that facilitate timely and mutually beneficial outcomes and opportunities and provide impetus for lasting change
- encourage and work in partnership with energy sector companies to develop reconciliation action plans or to consider Indigenous opportunities in their business development plans, corporate policies and programs for workplace diversity and local enterprise development.