Usurping the role of social enterprises: Indigenous employment practices of Australian remote local government

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paper presented at Conference (not in Proceedings)peer-review


    This paper responds to the governance, employment and human resource management thematic line by analysing the employment practices of seven local government bodies that operate in remote areas of Australia providing services and infrastructure to predominantly Aboriginal populations. It is argued these councils occupy the cross-border, trans-disciplinary space that has been claimed by social enterprises in other nations (EMES International Research Network 2017) due to Australia’s historical penchant for ‘colonial socialism’ (Butlin, Barnard & Pincus 1982, p. 13). Hancock (1930, p. 57) describes this Australian view of the state ‘as a vast public utility’ encouraged a highly interventionist use of collective power in the service of individual rights. The result is “weak” local governments (Hughes 2003) that are unrecognised in the Australian Constitution and derive their powers from state-level legislation (McNeill 1997, pp. 21-22). Community governments in remote areas have been given a wider range of permitted activities than allowed in urban areas (McNeill 1997, p. 20) and Aboriginal-controlled “councils take on any other functions which the residents of the community consider they should be involved in” (Coburn 1982, p. 12). Based upon surveys and semi-structured interviews of local government bodies, data has been extracted from a larger research project into factors that influence the employment of local Aboriginal staff. Issues to do with attraction, recruitment and retention were identified for almost 700 positions. The most consistent solution to the problems of employing local staff was vocational training; this led to the question of why is training considered to be a panacea? Applying Bacchi’s (2009) approach to policy analysis which probes the manner in which a problem is framed and the related potential solutions, it is proposed that local staffing problems have been rather narrowly considered by employers. This has been done by working backwards from the familiar and ‘common sense’ solution to many human capital problems - vocational training (Zoellner 2013, p. 194). Training Aboriginal people commenced with the 19th century incursions of missionaries into remote regions of Australia (Baker 2012; Joynt 1918) and remains in current policies designed to increase economic participation (Forrest 2014). The observed uncritical acceptance of vocational training as the major solution to employment problems of local governments runs the risk of ignoring more pertinent factors (Fowkes & Sanders 2015, pp. 8-9). Bacchi’s (2009, p. 34) premise is that policy should be gauged for its usefulness by assessing its impacts at a distance from the central power base from which it emanates. The policy reliance on the comfort embrace of the vocational training system belies other cross-sectorial and trans-disciplinary practices, activities, innovations and values. Conceiving of local governments as social enterprises provides an alternative lens to identify and enlist a greater range of problems and solutions that address causes of joblessness.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages15
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017
    EventEMES International Research Conference on Social Enterprise - Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
    Duration: 3 Jul 20176 Jul 2017
    Conference number: 6th


    ConferenceEMES International Research Conference on Social Enterprise


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