In remote Northern Australia local government bodies employ large numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In the period of this research project from August 2015 to February 2016 seven self-selected local councils collectively employed 680 Indigenous local staff including 411 in full time positions and representing between 12 and 90 per cent of total employees in the different organisations. The project outcomes describe the views of these employers on the key factors impacting their ability to attract and retain local employees.

Firstly, the jobs created had to be linked to the needs of the local community and the types of job opportunities that are sustainable. Secondly, the recognition of relevant cultural protocols and establishing a responsive leadership group is an important practice leading to increased Indigenous employment. A permanent commitment to training, mentoring and capacity development of local residents is a third major factor; this training can either be in the form of nationally recognised qualifications or informal configurations depending on regional circumstances and the availability of trainers and programs.

Another factor that emerged from this study was that local councils were increasingly supporting the establishment of locally-owned Aboriginal businesses and directing business to these companies that can compete on price and quality. This results in a ‘virtuous circle’ where external monies that flow into the community remain in the district and create further employment opportunities.

In response to national competition policies that are specifically targeted towards the delivery of human services, many local councils are reducing their reliance on highly restrictive grants from other governments. Instead they are adopting market-based techniques of bidding and winning contracts for service and program delivery on the behalf of other organisations with a related goal of creating and sustaining local employment.

As major employers of Indigenous staff local governments are successfully shifting from their historical sole reliance upon non-market provision of employment generating income to a mix of market and non-market activities. Undertaking local decision-making allows for a broader range of revenue sources being used to increase job prospects for remote residents.

Authors: Dr Don Zoellner and Dr Judith Lovell, Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University

This update was kindly provided as a sequel to ‘Employing local staff: case studies of remote local government organisations’, the abstract submitted for the 2017 Developing Northern Australia Conference. 

Find out what’s on for the 2018 Developing Northern Australia Conference here.