Indigenous mining jobs push misguided, spokesman says

The mining industry's drive to increase the number of Indigenous Australian in resources work is 'misguided' according to Indigenous spokesperson David Collard.

His comments came yesterday at an Indigenous Business, Enterprise and Corporations Conference at UWA, where Collard singled out Fortescue's Andrew Forrest's Aboriginal employment drive, according to The West.

It comes only days after the chair of Australian Indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne, Marcia Langton, stated that the mining industry is helping to pull many Indigenous people out of poverty.

By Langton’s count around 7000 indigenous people work in Australia’s mining industry.

Last year Rio employed 1100 Aboriginal people, representing around 11 per cent of its total WA workforce, and the company is hoping to move to 20 per cent by 2015.

In the Pilbara BHP Billiton employs 10,000 people, with just under 1,000 of those being Aboriginal.

Fortescue Metals Group, the region’s other big employer, has also brought its indigenous workforce up to around 10 per cent in WA.

“The emergence of an Aboriginal middle class in Australia in the last two to three decades has gone largely unnoticed,” Langton said in an ABC Boyer lecture recently.

“While the numbers remain small, this change heralds an economic future for Aboriginal people unimaginable 50 years ago.”

However Collard has disagreed with this drive, stating that many Aboriginal people don't want mining jobs as digging up the ground offends their culture.

Collard, who works on Indigenous employment for the National Resource Management program, targeted Forrest, explaining that Aboriginal people would prefer to have jobs that "heal the land", not dig it up.

"[Forrest] doesn't understand the traditional peoples' needs," Collard said.

"He doesn't understand their aspirations. To say that he will get more jobs in mining is the answer, is really only the answer for the mining sector – not Aboriginal people."

Langton disagreed, saying miners had a better understanding of how to stop the poverty cycle than current governments.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.