Doorstop Interview with Mr Andrew Forrest

Release Date: 
22 November 2013

Subjects: Indigenous Jobs and Training Review

ANDREW FORREST: If I can just make an opening remark. We’ve had, typical of Melbourne, a very active, supportive, inquisitive meeting this morning. We’ve had a good couple of hundred people. We’ve had around fifteen-hundred people roll up to these inquiries around Australia. I get the sense that Australia is ready to move on. That people are now believing that disparity can come to an end, that we have a responsibility, not just of government, not just of the business sector, but all Australians, to rid the country of disparity. Now is the time. I believe we can do it. Education, training, employment have a very big way to go. There are underlying issues which must also be addressed, and I’m deeply grateful to the people of Melbourne for putting their views forward.

ALAN TUDGE: This now ends the first week of our public consultations. We’ve been from Perth to Kununurra, to Darwin, down here to Melbourne and many stops in between. Over fifteen-hundred people have contributed to this process. We’ve had business leaders, community leaders, everyday Australians and training providers contribute to the process. The overall impression that we get is that there is immense goodwill to try and do things differently and to try and make a difference. We’ve heard all sorts of ideas. We’re accumulating those ideas under Mr Forrest’s leadership and we’re going to be doing further consultations over the next few weeks and months in order to provide good advice to the Prime Minister in April. 

REPORTER: Mr Forrest, you’ve obviously got set views about some of this stuff that you’ve been pushing for some time, but are there any new ideas or things that you might need to change and look at that have been put to you.

ANDREW FORREST: I’m obviously a person who goes for outcomes and goes for results. I think there is a great sensitivity around healing, around mentoring, not just of employees but of employers, and really taking advantage of what I see is a growing will of all businesses in Australia to move away from training for training’s sake. It’s no longer considered, and it’s just such a welcome change which has happened in the last year or two. Training for training’s sake is really not even considered to be an option now. That’s just the progression which is, I think, fabulous for this country. Training, directed by employers with job specific outcomes is what the nation is talking about, what the indigenous people are talking about, what they are demanding and that’s a new development that’s been made. I cannot welcome it more strongly.

REPORTER: (Question inaudible)

ANDREW FORREST: There’s a subsiding racism of low expectations where there just wasn’t that strong demand to employ aboriginal people. There now is. There is a really strong demand. If we can write off that soft racism as part of the Australian larrikinism but really the country is so much better off without that racism at all. Aand we’re seeing that now reflected in the demand by employers across Australia to give aboriginal people a real crack and to expect them to succeed. That expectation of success is being shared by elders of the Indigenous mob all throughout Australia. They want their youth to have the expectations of success placed upon their shoulders, not to be covered in that suffocating cotton-wool of welfare but to be expected to succeed because they will.

REPORTER: You say there’s been change, how has that come about?

ANDREW FORREST: I think it’s the progression of the natural psyche of Australia. I think there has been some real champions out there amongst the corporate and Indigenous communities who have been speaking up for the elimination of training for training’s sake. They’ve been speaking up for the market of the employers to direct training and probably, more importantly, there’s a change in attitude that aboriginal people can go blow to blow in any career, in any sport, with any non-indigenous Australian. Let’s not only give them that opportunity, but expect them to succeed.

REPORTER: Are you looking at some of the welfare rules as well? Do you think the welfare system still makes it difficult to make the transition?

ANDREW FORREST: The system of welfare was brought into our country to provide the safety net of a gap between employment and particularly for people who are disadvantaged and have not the intellectual or physical ability to really get out and participate in the workforce. It was never brought in as a way of life, as a permanent institution.

Let’s really look at those policies where we almost draw kids out of school - kids who say the pocket money isn’t great at school, but the pocket money is really great on welfare style cuts, so I’ll go on welfare. So we’ve just pulled them into a cycle of failure. We’ve got to look, as a nation, about issues like that.

REPORTER: Sorry can I just ask Mr Tudge about a case where in QLD an Indigenous cadet, starting a cadetship with (name of company inaudible) and apparently the department has said these cadetships have been placed on hold until the outcomes of the review. What’s going to happen to someone like him in the interim, if these cadetships aren’t going to be available? 

ALAN TUDGE: There is nothing that’s been put on hold in terms of funding applications because of this review. My understanding with that particular case is it is being worked through in the normal manner. 

REPORTER: [Question inaudible]

ALAN TUDGE: I don’t know his particular case, but in relation to this there have been funding submissions for Indigenous cadets and I understand they’re being processed in the usual manner and this review is not holding anything up.

REPORTER: So there is no freezing..?

ALAN TUDGE: There is no freezing on any programs, because of this review.

REPORTER: The review comes out this April. What’s the government planning to do, once it gets it how are they going to implement the recommendations?

ALAN TUDGE: Well we will wait and see what those recommendations are. Mr Forest will be presenting his report to the Prime Minister by the middle of April, and then of course the Government will be considering those recommendations with the strong view to implementing them.

REPORTER: So there is no sort of guaranteed outcome plan at this stage?

ALAN TUDGE: We don’t know what the results are going to be, we’ve just started the process really, we’ve just gone through week one of the consultation process. The written submissions are due by the end of the year. They will have very rich material to guide the review process and we want to see that first. We want to do further consultations, in the cities, in the regions and the remote areas, before the review team finalises its recommendations.

REPORTER: What’s your view on the possibility of employment quotas…?

ALAN TUDGE: This has come up a few times in the public meetings that we have had and this will be considered no doubt by the review team and Mr Forest might want to comment on that. But let’s go through the process, that’s why we have a process set up and established to methodically go through the ideas and work out what might work, what can make a difference.

REPORTER: Is there a danger of this just becoming a bit of a talk vest.

ALAN TUDGE: I don’t think that is going to be the case. To start with we’ve got a Prime Minister who is very serious about making this one of his top priorities. Secondly we’ve got Mr Forest who is a very senior business person, a person who has already made an enormous difference in this space, who is also very serious about making significant changes. Thirdly we’ve got the most senior, the most important department in the Federal public service, the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which is backing up this review team. It is a very serious review. The Government is very serious about listening to what the review team comes up with and making a difference, because we have too.

The disparity is still too great. The gap is not narrowing. We have to do things differently. If we don’t do things differently, we will get the same result.

REPORTER: Do you think there’s a need for legislative quotas when it comes to Indigenous employment?

ANDREW FORREST: We looked at targets all over Australia. Instead, we brought in the Australian employment covenant – 360 employers around Australia now guaranteeing up to sixty thousand jobs to Indigenous people, appropriately trained. Some seventeen thousand people under that specific program have moved from unemployment into work, which is probably the biggest single long-term migration from unemployment into work.

We know that hard contractual requirements work. It changes the thinking of chief executives. It changes the views of board of directors when they know they are really expected to comply. I would, for instance, with the major infrastructure contracts which have been issued across Australia, I’d be putting in there hard quotas and getting those companies to get out and get the advice from the communities about how to fill those quotas.

Thank you very much.