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Aboriginal groups are demanding concrete quotas for Indigenous employment on the Federal Government's $10 billion inland rail project, saying it's "not good enough" no targets have been set.
The Melbourne-to-Brisbane freight rail line has been touted as "nation building" and is expected to create 5,500 direct jobs in the construction phase, which will begin early next year.
The rail line runs through Moree in north-western New South Wales and its Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) is demanding a written guarantee 20 per cent of the workforce upgrading the track will be Indigenous.
One-fifth of the shire's population is Aboriginal.
The deputy chairman of Moree's LALC, Lloyd Munro, said all too often the builders of major projects made promises but didn't follow through.
"We've been burnt too many times … if it is in writing, well, they've got to do it," Mr Munro said.
"They generally come with workers themselves instead of employing locals."
The NSW Aboriginal Land Council oversees the local land councils, and supports Moree in its demands for a 20 per cent target.
"We would welcome that number and support that number, if not a little bit higher, depending on the communities that this corridor is going through," said Roy Ah-See, chairman of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council.
Indigenous employment will be our priority: ARTC CEO
However, the Government-owned builder of the multi-billion-dollar project, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), has told the ABC it has no targets for Aboriginal employment.
"We have not set any targets at all but we are very keen to make sure we get maximum participation from the local communities, and in particular Aboriginal communities, on the [rail] corridor," ARTC CEO John Fullerton said.
Mr Fullerton said the ARTC already employed about 50 Indigenous people nationwide, which was 2.7 per cent of its workforce.
"We are a large employer of Indigenous people in the company today and it's certainly going to be our priority to employ as many as we can in those local communities," he said.
Mr Ah-See said that wasn't good enough.
Here's what you need to know about inland rail
"They need to set some targets … council would be looking for a briefing sooner rather than later," he said.
"For far too long now Aboriginal people have been the last people to go to when it comes to employment or economic development opportunities."
He said the percentage employed was, "a bit small at the moment" and his council would reach out to the ARTC in the near future.
"[We want to] basically encourage the ARTC to not see us as a barrier, but rather a solution … and forming a relationship and a partnership," Mr Ah-See said.
Mr Munro said the Moree land council has had no contact from the ARTC, and if no concrete targets were secured they would ramp up pressure by lobbying state and federal politicians.
"It's not good enough. If you want to make those statements you need to come and talk to the land council, you need to talk to the Aboriginal community of Moree and also surrounding areas," he said.
The unemployment rate in Moree is 6.4 per cent, about 1 per cent higher than the national average.
However, according to the not-for-profit Aboriginal Employment Strategy (AES), an employment agency in Moree, 60 per cent of Aboriginal people in the town are unemployed.
One of those people is Jason Saunders. The 22-year-old A-grade football player has been looking for work since last November.
His last job was on the construction of a solar farm, and he's very keen to get work on the inland rail project.
He said any new jobs for local people would be a major boost.
"It would be really good for them [locals] to get out of town, do work, instead of messing around," he said. "Construction … anything would be good."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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