ABC Perth with John McGlue

Release Date: 
8 September 2014

JOHN MCGLUE: Gentlemen welcome.


ALAN TUDGE: G'day John.

JOHN MCGLUE: Nice to see you both. Lots in this report but can you capture for us Andrew Forrest, the two or three key points that you think stand out above all others?

ANDREW FORREST: I think the first is from going from the womb to work – making sure that child is cared for. This is almost a free kick for government, makes such a massive difference. 95 per cent of the brain growth is in that first three years, but government tends to spend all its money on the last five per cent which is after three, when after the horse has bolted.

Second is creating a debit card which is a sophisticated mechanism. I must say I was verging on being a little upset when the brief for the Prime Minister just before he launched the review was that it was income management – nothing of the sort. It's a sophisticated debit card. You can buy anything you like with it. You can put credits on the school tuck shop or the local deli, but you can't buy alcohol, drugs, or gamble with it. And I would much rather put the drug dealers out of work than your kids.

And lastly, it creates employment everywhere of all vulnerable Australians, but in particular, indigenous vulnerable Australians. Because once you put someone into work or even if you have an indigenous person with a half decent education like Year 10 and a trade, letalone a degree John, the disparity finishes.

The epiphany I had is that if you just remove the impediments to a half decent education, they're home, you've got rid of the disparity in that persons life.

JOHN MCGLUE: Well you make the point in the report that the disparity between all Australians and indigenous Australians who have had the benefit of education is zip, it's zero.


JOHN MCGLUE: There is no difference but the disparity occurs where there's disadvantage in education at an early age and as you say you're recommending early intervention. What can you possibly do, being the first three years of life? What can a government do to intervene in those times?

ANDREW FORREST: It should really start John before birth. So what we've done with Challis just out here in Armadale is starting to fund a little programme which co-located the government sources – counselling, health services, baby nurturing, pre-natal care, but out of the school.

So mum when she reached that she was pregnant would get a visit -not from someone from the middle of town who had a $50 taxi ride - but somebody who walked from the local school to their home, just said ‘hey you know that flagon of sherry up on the shelf there, well if you drink the rest of it with your little baby that you won't have a friend for life that you can add another real challenge to an already tough life.'

It's just those simple things which can really centre a community around a healthier lifestyle, doing it through the school, and energise school principals is all you need and a cooperative government and then it becomes a local fixed problem.

And then lastly, creating employment and removing the impediments to employment. This is not art. It's just a simple science. We've got to get rid of the gentle racism of low expectations and demand that our indigenous people stand up and are given the opportunities that they absolutely can.

JOHN MCGLUE: Nine minutes to five on Drive, you're with John McGlue. My guests in the studio are Andrew Forrest and Alan Tudge who's the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister talking about the Creating Parity report which is authored by Andrew Forrest. Alan Tudge, I want to get your input in a moment in terms of how the Government is going to respond to this.

One final question on detail in the report Andrew Forrest, you broadened beyond the original brief and a part of that, that expanded look at this issue you've delved deeply into the welfare issue and I know you've just launched a spirited defence of the card that you mentioned. But you recommended a system where discretionary spending for all welfare recipients – indigenous and non-indigenous is managed. How do you empower people who are on welfare if you're going to restrict them in ways like that?

ANDREW FORREST: Ok John that's how it's been interpreted but the review's really clear. It's for vulnerable Australians. It's a debit card which is not income management. You can buy, do whatever you like with this card except alcohol, drugs, and gambling.

And I don't see any defence available to someone saying ‘hang on, why should kids under 18 be allowed to buy drugs and alcohol. There's no point for that. Yet that's still received opposition in some quarters. That opposition I don't understand.

The vulnerable Australians, they want to opt-in or there's very clear areas where drug addiction, crime rates, very low NAPLAN results cut in, then give these people an opportunity, don't give up on them with just cash welfare.

Cash wasn't designed to keep the drug dealers in work and keep the kids out. Cash welfare was designed to help you get onto a secure lifestyle, get training, or get work. That's all we're trying to do with this card.

JOHN MCGLUE: Alan Tudge let me bring you in. I'd like to hear from you. You're the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, he's charged you with taking a very active role in relation to this. How much of this is feasibly implementable if you like? How much of this is realistically going to see its way into implementation?

ALAN TUDGE: Well we're going through a consultation phase at the moment John. We received the report from Andrew about three weeks ago and Andrew and I are consulting with communities across Australia to get their view on it with local people, with community leader, with business leaders as to what their views are. Then we'll make decisions around implementation.

But make no mistake John, we've got a Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs for the first time in Australian history who is absolutely determined to make a difference here. When you look at the statistics, we have to make change because the employment gap is not getting smaller, it's actually getting wider. Even in a state like Western Australia the employment gap has got wider over the last five years despite the mining boom.

In places like the Northern Territory, only one in four remote kids are attending school often enough for them to effectively learn.

We've got one in four babies which are being born with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder -i.e. brain damage in some communities.

So we have to make a change here. We can't keep doing the same thing, otherwise we'll just get the same results.

JOHN MCGLUE: And as part of that consultation Alan Tudge, what kind of response are you getting from indigenous groups and I'm thinking especially here around these quite radical proposals for welfare payments and how they can be dispersed by the recipients? What kind of response are you getting?

ALAN TUDGE: Well we've just had a couple of consultations today with many indigenous leaders. We'll be doing one tomorrow. And I don't want to put words in their mouth but when they've had it explained to them by and large they have been supportive of it.

Now not everybody is…

JOHN MCGLUE: It would be quite a radical change from what exists at the moment.

ALAN TUDGE: Listen in some respects it is and in some respects it isn't. Andrew is correct that this is not income management but there is a card in existence today called the Basics Card across much of Australia. The interesting thing about that Basics Card which in essence does quarantine half of your welfare payment, is that when people come off the compulsory part of it, about a third of people actually voluntarily decide to stay on it because they find it's a useful tool to help them with budgeting and getting on top of their finances.

Now this card is an even simpler concept. It is literally just a debit card – an ordinary bank debit card – you can use it everywhere and anywhere, but you simply cannot buy alcohol with it, you can't gamble with it.

We've got to get on top of this alcohol problem John and I think this is potentially a mechanism to do so.

JOHN MCGLUE: Four to five on Drive you're with John McGlue. Alan Tudge, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister is my guest talking about the Creating Parity report and its author is here too, Andrew Forrest. And Andrew your report talks about wanting to end paternalism and no doubt that means a big dose of what some people would call tough love. What appetite do you think there is at a political to deliver that?

ANDREW FORREST: John it's a really great question. I think Australia is waking up and therefore our politicians be they crossbenchers, be they Liberal, Labor, it doesn't matter waking up, that it's not Ok to live in a country where you can be hospitalised for assault at a 30 times higher rate if you're indigenous related to drugs and alcohol. In the Northern Territory, you're 80 times more likely to be hospitalised for assault if you're an indigenous Australian woman than your other Australian sisters. That's not right. From Wilcannia to other places where you've got the average death rate of indigenous men at 37 - that's worse than Croatia or war-torn Ukraine.

This is not Ok for our country and I think politicians are finally hearing their people saying ‘this is not the Australia I'm proud of' -the tens of billions of dollars that are getting wasted on a current system which is clearly broken, which is delivering worse and worse outcomes.

Let's change the entire system. Let's get the drug dealers out of work. Let's get the kids into work and let's get the disparity a thing of the past.

JOHN MCGLUE: When will a decision be made on the recommendations which have been submitted in this report?

ALAN TUDGE: So at the end of the consultation period which is over the next few weeks, then a decision will be made by the Federal Cabinet over the broad architecture. But then as measures get implemented, of course there's going to be further engagement with people on the ground. In fact there'll be engagement with people on the ground at every step of the way.

But additionally there's recommendations which are geared at the Western Australian Government and recommendations geared at aboriginal leaders. Everybody has to step up here.

JOHN MCGLUE: OK thank you so much for talking about that.