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Creating parity for all Australians

The wheel is one of the greatest inventions of man. In relation to this review, it symbolises firstly the absolute importance of the axle of measurement and accountability that is critical to the performance of all initiatives in the wheel.

Secondly, the spokes demonstrate that each initiative is reliant on the other to work and protect it. The rim holds the whole mechanism together—without it, neither the spokes nor the axle have integrity and the mechanism is useless.

This diagram is in the form of a wagon wheel that is used to show the key concepts in creating parity. The outer rim includes the words ‘prenatal, early childhood and education’ at the top and ‘healthy welfare card’ at the bottom. The wheel has six ‘spokes’, each representing an initiative and demonstrating that each initiative is reliant on the others. Moving in a clockwise direction from the top, the initiatives are: Implementation—involving governments working together, funding on results, and robust implementation;  Breaking the welfare cycle—focusing on job seeker compliance, simpler welfare and young people; Building capability and ending the cash barbeque—involving tax incentives for business, employment services, vocational education and training, and training;  Employment services—involving mobility support and home ownership; Building employer demand—involving engaging the corporate sector, more private and public sector jobs, and procurement opportunities; Empowering remote communities to end the disparity themselves—through local decision making, cultural authority to set and enforce norms, enabling individual ownership of land, and changes to remote housing. There is also an inner circle or axle containing the words ‘measurement and accountability’ which symbolise their importance to the performance of all initiatives in the wheel.

Recognising that talent is universal but opportunity isn’t, the rim of the wheel is made up of:

  • intensive prenatal care, early childhood care and education
    • this provides the most critical health support in a person’s life, which is from conception to three years of age
    • it also provides improved attendance for school kids with mutual obligations for the Family Tax Benefit of parental responsibility from prenatal to adulthood, which will give children a healthy start in their early years and ensure they attend school every day. The payment of Commonwealth education funding to state and territory governments on actual school attendance will ensure the schools themselves are highly motivated.
  • the Healthy Welfare Card
    • this introduces a new system to support welfare recipients to manage their income and liabilities, save for the occasional bigger expenses like Christmas or school camps, and encourages welfare income to be invested in a healthy life.

The encouraging and compelling evidence is that first Australians who get a decent education are employed at the same rates as other Australians. A decent education means leaving school with Year 12 or equivalent qualifications and the ability to go on to further education and training. To end the disparity we must improve growth and development from conception to three years of age, so that children excel at school and further training and succeed in the workplace. It will take around two decades for these children to reach working age, so we must have interim intensive services that are described in the rest of the report for those who are already of school and working age.

The Healthy Welfare Card gives people the capacity to stabilise their financial arrangements to ensure secure housing, payment of regular bills and food on the table. It means that individuals and families can then concentrate on what they need to do to get a job and to ensure children go to school.

Driving the wheel’s axle are measurement and accountability. These performance measures are critical. The question of how to solve some of the more difficult implementation challenges will arise during each project, and can be met through breaking the challenge down to its various sub-tasks. Each task can then have a delegated responsible executive and timetable to achieve it.

The Australian Employment Covenant links the funding of training to a guaranteed job. This has been challenging for the government to implement over the last six years. However, even a challenge this significant becomes achievable if it is broken into bite-sized sub-tasks and attached to a performance-driven timetable. I have a specific implementation recommendation (6.1) that will guide government success. Absolute determination to see the tasks through in the manner described is the only guarantee of success.

There is a powerful practice from the business world that can be applied. Business occasionally refers to what are called ‘value driver trees’, which break down the challenge into small achievable, measurable steps that can be put into a Gantt chart to monitor and report on progress. This is a fundamental tool for the project manager’s use in timetabling and measuring achievement levels in a project. An example is provided in the Implementation point diagram on the next page. We need to adopt the same approach.

Implementation point

How training providers will operate under the VTEC model

This flowchart outlines how training providers will operate under the Vocational Training and Employment Centre model. Starting at the top of the flowchart a box contains the words ‘locate willing, capable employees and communities’. Directly under this is a box containing the words ‘limit funds to only trainers with employers committed to employ trainees’. Directly below this is a box containing the word ‘government’. A box directly to the left of ‘government’ contains the word ‘company’ and a box directly to the right of ‘government’ contains the word ‘community’. These three boxes and the boxes beneath them will be described one by one:  Reading from left to right, the box containing ‘company’ has four boxes below it. The box below it on the left contains the words ‘determine industries that need regular new employees’ directly below that is a box containing the words ‘give employees clear information about training requirements’. The box on the right contains the words ‘ensure there is no soft bigotry of low expectation in participating company’ and the box below that contains the words ‘link to VTEC and other employment services’. The box containing the word ‘government’ is in the centre of the flowchart and has three boxes under it arranged side by side: moving from left to right the boxed text reads ‘agree portion funded by government’, agree portion funded by company’ and  ‘have company wholly funded and provide training’. The box containing the word ‘community’ to the right of government has a series of boxes beneath it, starting with a box containing the words ‘identify communities willing to participate’. Beneath that is a box containing the words ‘give individuals and communities information on eligible terms and conditions’. Below that is a box titled ‘job centres’ and containing the words ‘speak to Elders and community leaders and employers to ensure total community support for members who wish to climb out of the welfare trap’. Below this is a box containing the words ‘individual steps up to take personal responsibility’ and there are three boxes aligned side by side below this. Reading from left to right, the boxes read ‘discuss and reach agreement on expectations with individual’, initially ensure basic transport to and from training for individual’ and ‘ensure individual commences a healthy lifestyle at least a week before training’. Beneath this last box is a box reading ‘plan B’, which has two boxes beneath it aligned side by side: ‘collect individuals personally from their homes if they no-show, yet still want to change their lives’ and ‘give support so individuals are punctual. Get candidates well presented, clean and fed until they have established a routine themselves’

I have used the strategy ‘How governments can achieve massive change—fast’ described on page 113 time and time again to achieve difficult tasks and to bring in—on time and on budget— very challenging and major projects. I recommend them here to government.

This report therefore provides a balanced, integrated management and measurement driven approach and how to do it, leading to change that will be transformational. The spokes of this wheel will:

  • break the welfare cycle with a simpler welfare system requiring every able person to be engaged in full-time activity with limited discretion for exemptions
  • build employment capability through tax incentives for business to create training grounds with real jobs for the most disadvantaged job seekers, and link training and employment services to guaranteed jobs
  • build employment incentives for mobility, affordable accommodation and home ownership, particularly for families and job seekers from remote communities
  • build employer demand with ambitious required levels of Indigenous employees in the private and public sector, tailor-made partnerships with the top 200 companies and required levels of government procurement to go to first Australian businesses
  • allow Indigenous people in remote communities to end the disparity themselves with a special governance structure that empowers respected Elders, and has at least equal representation by women. This governance structure will set and enforce social norms and job seeker compliance. Changes in the structure of land ownership as supported by traditional owners and other relevant first Australian groups will enable appropriate titles for home ownership and investment. If applied properly and with discipline, some 20% of the Australian landmass could be put to work with an ever-increasing contribution to the economy. This can be achieved without ever compromising its ultimate Indigenous ownership.