A peer reviewed paper by Dr Don Zoellner, Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University, Alice Springs
The goal of increasing employment rates for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents of remote Australia is not only a specific element of proposals to develop northern Australia but also aligns with broader national policy agendas. This paper draws on original research into the employment practices of a small group of self-selected local government bodies that provide and maintain a large range of services across the north.
Using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, the importance of local government as a major employer is re-affirmed through the specification of the enablers of and barriers to the employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who live in the area. The capacity of the shire or council to generate income which can, in turn, be used to create jobs, was a recurring theme to emerge from the study. Local governments’ ability to raise their own funds through land rates is severely constrained in most remote areas and many are heavily dependent upon the receipt of grants from the other two tiers of government. These monies are frequently tied and are used to fund the provision of specific services on behalf of other governments’ agencies. However, the research findings reported that a number of remote local governments are increasingly turning to more market-driven behaviours in order to move away from grant reliance and to increase local determination of the types of employment that will be offered.
The extension of competition policy and the related outsourcing of government service provision, particularly by introducing increased consumer choice into the human services, provide a catalyst for local governments to reduce their traditional embrace of non-market activity in order to generate revenues that support the employment of locals.