Topics: Forrest Review
STEVE MILLS: Good morning. Andrew 'Twiggy Forrest is in the studio with us right now. Alan Tudge is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Good morning gentlemen.
ALAN TUDGE: Good morning.
STEVE MILLS: Now the reason why youre here is not to talk about your wealth, which seems to be mentioned every time you mention Twiggy Forrest – 'hes the richest bloke in Australia – but, its a topic that youre pretty passionate about and that is getting indigenous people into training and into jobs.
I know that I first came across Andrew when you were at Murrin Murrin and youd started a program where you were employing indigenous people and you were guaranteeing them a job and you had money that was inputted from the federal government and the state, but more importantly you put your own up. That seems to be a situation where it did gather a little bit of traction.
But when we start looking at indigenous communities that live in isolated areas, and asking them to actually work, where are the jobs for those people, Andrew?
ANDREW FORREST: Ive just written a major review, the Creating Parity review, and the truth is that if you encourage people to live out there, if you give them next to no rent, but if they move to a job you charge them full-freight rent, give them a heap of risk to try and get a job but next to no risk if they live out there, of course at the end of the day thats our policy but we make them live out there. Thats just lunatic in my view.
STEVE MILLS: They had programs, though. They had [inaudible] if you go back to the old days, they had programs in the community and they were given money to do work around a community. But they were never going to lead to a job because there were no jobs for them to go to.
ANDREW FORREST: That is so correct. Back in those Murrin Murrin days we actually got a program going and it cost a lot of our own shekels, but whenever we went to apply for government funding, I dont know if youll remember, but youd get funding for training or funding to help someone find a job but if you provided a guaranteed job which is exactly what the Indigenous mob wants, to have the faith to do the training because there will be a job there, then you couldnt get any funding at all.
It was just this kind of lunatic feel-good attitude to indigenous people which actually left them exactly where they were. It didnt really help them out.
STEVE MILLS: Alan, thats where we bring you in. With this paper, one of the recommendations is that no funding would be given to any employer unless you guarantee that person a job at the end of training. But if I said to you, would you employ me but you dont know me until I actually get on the job, employers are loath to employ and commit for a long period of time until they actually know the person can do the job. Its a bit of a catch-22, surely?
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks Steve. Andrews done this report. Hes been working on it over the past six to nine months, providing advice to us as to how we can create parity, because the indigenous employment gap, surprisingly enough, is actually getting bigger not smaller. One of the problems which he identified is that there is so much training for trainings sake. You will see so many Indigenous people particularly who will have ten certificates to their name, but no job at the end.
What you identified there and what Andrew recommends, is that training should lead to a job. Weve already started this process by allocating 5,000 positions through whats called VTECs, Vocational Training and Education Centres. What they do is that if an Indigenous person rocks up to one of these centres, goes through the training course, there will be a guaranteed job at the end.
Weve got 5,000 spots already funded for those. Employers are signing up. We had almost 50 organisations submitting applications to run these and weve put 20 in place already. So there is the demand to do that.
ANDREW FORREST: Can I just applaud the Government for doing that. Thats a programme worth about $40 million. Itll have a pay back in tax revenues of about nine months. Thats just a spectacular program for the taxpayer and for the mob. But the Government is, and Id like every listener on 6PR to remember these two words - Eric Abetz - if everyone could remember Minister Eric Abetz, give him a call and say youre about to allocate over $5 billion, not $40 million, but over $5 billion to a programme which will not actually guarantee a job and will pay most of the money to the so-called employment services, even if they dont stay for 26 weeks, even if its a failure and they cant stay in the job for half a year.
My argument to government really strongly is, because weve seen tens of billions of dollars get wasted on Employment Services programs which actually encourage the process but not the result.
STEVE MILLS: So what do you say to people who listen to this and go thats alright for indigenous people, but what about my kids? They cant get a job, I cant get a job. I know that weve had discussions in the past in regards to having cards, that nobody gets a handout anymore, it needs to be a level playing field. How do you then address that? I know that you probably roll out some stats which are likely, like the death rate for indigenous people.
ANDREW FORREST: Its far higher than the rest of it.
STEVE MILLS: that what your argument is?
ANDREW FORREST: They are all really great points, but the policies which are in the Creating Parity review are for non-indigenous people just as much as indigenous.
What Im looking for is the government to spend the billions of dollars of every listeners wealth on success, on the results. Whether or not its your son or your daughter or someone from Wilcannia, you can actually know that if they get training, that trainer is going to get paid when youve had a job for six months, not when youve had a job for a day or just done training. Were trying to get government to pay on results just like every listener here normally gets paid.
STEVE MILLS: What do you say to someone, though, who just doesnt have the skills to get up to an employment level, to take the job that you say is there? Because you know as well as I know, there are certain people who need a hell of a lot more training than others to get to that level. What do you say to that?
ANDREW FORREST: We have policies right there which take people where they are. You could be drug addicted, you could be just out from long term incarceration, you couldve never held a job since you left school in Year 10. But they are policies which meet you right there and say first up, were going to get a drivers licence.
After that, were going to make sure that your reading and writing is a little bit beyond just to get a drivers licence, and then well start you on that wonderful staircase to get the work practices, the lifestyle habits, cleanliness, brushing your teeth, getting up in the morning, all the stuff you and I take for granted, but you work people up.
Weve employed literally hundreds of Indigenous people, and non-Indigenous people, but starting where they are and working up. Looking at their strengths, not looking at their weaknesses.
STEVE MILLS: Were taking with Andrew Forrest and also Alan Tudge, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
One of the controversial things, and we spoke about this a month ago after you delivered the report, was about the idea of giving welfare recipients a card that effectively dictates where they can spend their money and where they cant spend their money. You wouldve known it was going to be controversial at the time, but you were keen to make that point. What sort of a reaction have you had since?
ANDREW FORREST: Since then, Ive said this once or twice, I could have throttled the person who advised the Prime Minister to describe it as income management or welfare regulation, almost just like you did then. What were talking about is the new technology - absolutely brand new.
Australia, I believe, would have brought it in earlier if it had the technology, but it didnt. Its a debit card, just a debit card like youve got in your wallet, like every listener has. Theres no shame. Theres no stigma. You can buy whatever you like with it at all, but what you cant buy on it, and I dont think this is much of a direction and its only for vulnerable Australians, those Australians like under 18, it stops them buying alcohol and it stops them buying drugs.
Where in the world has any taxpayer or anyone on the dole think they have an absolute legitimate right to go and buy illegal substances with their welfare? Im saying lets have a debit card that they can buy whatever they like, they just cant buy things that will really hurt them.
BASIL ZEMPILAS: Alcohol of course isnt illegal though, is it?
ANDREW FORREST: Well for everyone under 18 its highly illegal.
BASIL ZEMPILAS: For under 18, for sure.
ALAN TUDGE: I think though, there is Baz, a massive problem as you know in many communities with alcohol consumption. One of the most confronting figures which is in Andrew Forrests report is that in some communities now, one in four babies are being born brain damaged because their mothers drank excessively whilst pregnant. One in four babies.
You know all sorts of other problems which emanate from excessive alcohol consumption, particularly in the remote communities, but no exclusively so. Weve got to get on top of this. We have to get on top of this. We are very serious about taking a very close look at this recommendation of Andrew Forrests.
STEVE MILLS: Id like to know whether the community at large has an appetite for this type of topic. 9221 1882, is the Forrest Review… [inaudible]
ANDREW FORREST: Please remember when you ring in, its for vulnerable Australians. Were not trying to bring it across for everyone. Its for those people who really need the help.
STEVE MILLS: Reckon well get people who will say youre on the money? We should be doing this. We should be spending money. Do you think well get those calls?
ANDREW FORREST: Weve been swamped so far. Remember that we already spend an enormous amount of money on whats called income management. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesnt.
This is a card which is basically free. It costs the taxpayer nothing but it helps vulnerable Australians.
STEVE MILLS: Give me your feedback. Its your money at the end of the day, even though Andrew has plenty of his own. This is the government money were talking about. 9221 1882, what do you think?
STEVE MILLS: We have Alan and Twiggy Forrest in the studio at the moment in regards to getting people back to work. Robyn, what would you like to say?
CALLER ROBYN: Id like to say thank you Mr Forrest. I agree 100 per cent with your comments. The trouble with socialism in the words of the great Margaret Thatcher is that you soon run out of other peoples money. Why should anyone be ill-spending the hard-earned money from people who do pay a lot of tax. My husband is a FIFO and he is in the industry, and the tax is phenomenal, well over six figures we pay per year, and Im done with it.
STEVE MILLS: Good on you Robyn. So theres a vote of support Twiggy. What about you Joe, what do you say?
CALLER JOE: Id like to congratulate these two for looking after the rising aspirations of our indigenous communities. As a teacher, Im into getting education into everybody. In other words, letting them find their place through education. Id like to ask you two, how do they feel, and I wrote this in an assignment exam when I was doing my Aboriginal studies, they should set up an indigenous university in the same way theyve had African-American universities and Maori universities.
STEVE MILLS: Were going to put that to you. Are you going to fund the Forrest University for Indigenous Cultures?
ANDREW FORREST: Im not too bad at funding universities, but look with African-Americans theres millions and millions, as opposed to hundreds of thousands, so youd need a really good pool of people. I dont think its a bad idea, but what I do know is that soft bigotry of low expectations which often gets applied by all governments, public servants and even people like you and I, I think thats leaving the community.
As it leaves, its going to leave behind doors open to universities, to workplaces, to indigenous people. Lets hope it solves itself. But its a good suggestion.
STEVE MILLS: Graeme, youre in Hillarys. Good morning.
CALLER GRAEME: Good morning. I think anyone you can get into employment is a hell of a good idea. I dont care what colour they are, if you can get them into employment its good. Six years ago when I was 63 I was sent to one of those employment agencies, a government one. In two years, they sent me to one job.
STEVE MILLS: In two years?
CALLER GRAEME: In two years they sent me to one job.
STEVE MILLS: Theres got to be a better way. Graeme, thanks for that. So far so good for you guys. Barry, good morning.
CALLER BARRY: Yeah how you going, boys? Look, good idea, but the thing is that youre creating jobs for the unemployable. Now dont get me wrong, we all should be employable. But in true respects theres millions out there who cannot get a job because they are just unemployable. Youve got to get a job for the unemployable, not the other way around.
ANDREW FORREST: Ive actually employed hundreds and hundreds of what people would call completely unemployable. Total heroin addictions and long term incarcerations who had just come out. No one is going to give them a break. But I did notice this. I noticed that Aboriginal companies do employ Aboriginal people at about 100 times the number of non-Aboriginal companies.
We need to encourage those companies. We need to encourage other companies that are prepared to give people a shot who are really unemployable, not with welfare but with business, and give those businesses who are really going to chew through money helping others that the government simply cant, with tax breaks. The whole community will be better off.
STEVE MILLS: Glenn at Scarborough, good morning.
CALLER GLENN: Good morning. I think thats a great idea what them two gentlemen are doing there at the moment. Im the chairperson of a resource centre in [inaudible], and our focus is to help the mums and dads to keep their kids longer at school. Education is the key to anyone, black white or brindle. If theyre going to hold long term employment theyve got to know how to read and write. What were dealing with out in the community is alcohol and drugs and peer group pressure.
ALAN TUDGE: Completely agree on that one. We know in fact that if people have a good education, then they get employed at the same rate as non-indigenous people. In fact if youre an indigenous woman with a higher education degree, youre more likely to be employed than a non-Indigenous woman with a higher education degree.
STEVE MILLS: If people want to have a say on this report, what do they do?
ALAN TUDGE: They can write in to me directly or they can go to the creating parity website and theyve got all the details there.
STEVE MILLS: Im not sure if youre on Facebook Andrew, but they can also have a say on our Facebook page. You can log on and have a look if youd like. Are you on Facebook?
ANDREW FORREST: Absolutely not.
STEVE MILLS: Andrew 'Twiggy Forrest, thanks for your time this morning, and Alan Tudge, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, thanks for joining us.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much.