Transcript 2GB Sydney with Chris Smith

Release Date: 
26 September 2014

Topics: Forrest Review, Healthy Welfare Card

CHRIS SMITH: [introduction]

CHRIS SMITH: Alan, where did the idea for this review come from?

ALAN TUDGE: This was an election commitment of ours, to engage Andrew Forrest to provide us some advice as to how to get more Aboriginal people into work. Andrew was engaged because he’s had a terrific track record himself in his business, as well as has a great track record of engaging with Indigenous business.

CHRIS SMITH: Andrew, did you have any second thought about being part of a review such as this?

ANDREW FORREST: Look, it was a bolt out of the blue. I was flat out like a lizard drinking at the time and I was told this was going to put your life right on hold, and it has. The Prime Minister said we want to get the Indigenous mob into jobs. I looked at it and thought that can’t happen on its own. We need a holistic, total view to make that happen.

CHRIS SMITH: Having taken the task on board, how did you go about preparing your report? How much work went into it?

ANDREW FORREST: It was ten months. It was a massive amount of work. We went all over the country and spoke to about 1,600 people, read 400 different submissions. We listened to the mothers and parents just decrying the fact that the drugs and alcohol in their communities are what is destroying them.

The card you mentioned, that’s just a straight up debit card we’re recommending in the review only for vulnerable Australians. It’s a debit card that can buy anything you like, anywhere you like apart from drugs, alcohol and gambling.

CHRIS SMITH: Tell me about your definition of vulnerable Australians, because some listeners would say ‘hang on, am I going to be guided and told what to spend welfare on when I have a card like this, and does it apply to me?’ Who are vulnerable Australians?

ANDREW FORREST: Let’s just look at say, everyone on the dole or on Youthstart, a euphemistic name I recon for a really bad choice. Everyone on the dole under 18, there is no possible justification there for access to drugs and alcohol so let’s start there. Then lets have a look at people who are in really vulnerable shape. People who have just come out of long-term incarceration or multiple incarcerations. People who have been out of work for years. People who really really need a hand.

They’re all over Australia – black, white and brindle. It’s those people who will blow up their welfare cheque on drugs, alcohol and poor choices and they need a hand. We cant just desert them and say here’s the cash mate, we’ve ticked our box. No, you’ve gotta help those people out of the whole they’ve dug for themselves.

CHRIS SMITH: Alan, was it the government’s intention to receive recommendations from someone such as Andrew Forrest that included the non-Aboriginal population as well?

ALAN TUDGE: When you ask Andrew Forrest to do something, you always know you’re going to get something a bit out of the box. In some respects, that’s why he was asked. We don’t need ordinary thinking in this space, we need something different.

He’s given us a blueprint which goes from early childhood all the way through to training and employment and picks up on the welfare system as well which is so poisonous, particularly in many Indigenous communities.

It’s a big report. It’s an ambitious report, but we think it is a very good one. We’ve been consulting across Australia over the last few weeks to get people’s reaction to it, and from that we’re going to be making some decisions over the weeks and months ahead.

We’ve got to do things differently Chris, because particularly as you know in the remote Indigenous communities you’ve got places there where one in four babies are now being born brain damaged from foetal alcohol syndrome. You’ve got half the welfare payments being spent on booze in some places.

We’ve got to get on top of this. This destroys the communities.

CHRIS SMITH: I would say that you could probably talk to social workers in areas of Sydney that would say the same kind of thing is being witnessed in young families right around Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane.

ALAN TUDGE: I think that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. This report started from the perspective of how do we get more Aboriginal people into work and engaged and advancing into school. But of course many of the measures apply across the board.

We’ve got to think carefully about this. We’ve got to think through precisely how these might work, how you might implement some of these and we’re consulting broadly before making any decisions on them, Chris.

CHRIS SMITH: Andrew, apart from the consultations and the submissions you’ve taken, do we have any real evidence within the Indigenous communities of Australia where a system like that has worked without question?

ANDREW FORREST: Absolutely. I was involved with the battles on behalf of the women in [inaudible] when they brought in ‘you can’t take away anything but low strength alcohol.’ When they were taking cartons of whatever they could back home, that’s where all the trouble really started. Not so much in the pubs, but in the homes where the fights would start, with the maulings, with child incest, everything which you’d hate to see in any just society.

Once we removed the high strength grog out of those houses, we had calm. The hospitals emptied, the schools filled. We started to put the drug dealers out of work and put the kids into work. This absolutely works Chris. We need to cut off the demand also now because the sly grog runners, drug dealers, they get around the law. But if you can cut off the supply money to the drug dealers, then they’re going to be the ones out of work and we can get the kids into school and into jobs.  

CHRIS SMITH: But once again, you’ve shifted this particular concept into the broader community. What’s been the behind the scenes reaction from Ministers and even the Prime Minister about what you’re recommending, about the fact you want to make it so wide ranging? Have they got the guts to take it one step further, do you think?

ANDREW FORREST: Look, I’d like to see it happen. I would absolutely like to see it happen. But I do want to say I went to see the Labor leadership straight up and said ‘what’s it take for a completely bipartisan approach here?’ Because this is our Indigenous Australians and look, good policies are going to help all vulnerable Australians. Our policies have failed them completely.

They said listen Andrew, we’ll back you and let’s see if they do, right. But they said we’ll back you if it doesn’t offend the racial discrimination act, you consult with the community and if the policies are any bloody good they can be used for all Australians. I’ve faithfully kept to that charter.

CHRIS SMITH: In some ways though, when you’re talking about those who could be in danger of using welfare dollars for things they shouldn’t be using it for, you’ve almost got to discriminate as to who is in a position of risk, and who is not in a position of risk. You’ve almost got to discriminate to make sure this works, don’t you?

ANDREW FORREST: I don’t so, because if someone’s been employed and they’ve got a track record, or they’ve been in training and they’ve got a track record, then they’re not actually vulnerable. But you can pick the NAPLAN results, the education results of kids, the crime rates across houses let alone streets and suburbs, you can pick people in a heartbeat.

This is public information and you can get in and help those people because they don’t want to keep those drug dealers in work, let me tell you. They don’t want to get drawn down to that pub and then come back and beat up the kids. They really feel sick to suicide in the mornings when that happens, so help those people. Don’t desert them, help them.

CHRIS SMITH: What about policing all of this. It’s up to your government, Alan, to try and police a system of this magnitude. Do you think it’s feasible?

ALAN TUDGE: We’re working through this. We’re getting advice, speaking to the banks to work through what the technology can do. But the advice that we’ve got today, including from Andrew who has spoken to many people, is that you can have the technology now which will enable you to purchase whatever you like, but would prevent you from purchasing alcohol and gambling.

The red light would flash and say ‘no, you can’t purchase that product’. Anything else, no dramas.

CHRIS SMITH: You’ve almost got to have welfare police in communities to try and work out whether this is actually occurring.

ALAN TUDGE: Not in this instance. This is one of the strengths of the recommendations, is that it would be a normal, everyday bank debit card that you would have in your wallet, where you could spend it anywhere but you would not be able to purchase alcohol or gamble with it, or take cash out with it. That’s the proposal. The technology, as we understand it, does exist to be able to do that.

But we’ve got to work through this very calmly, very methodically. We’re not going to rush before making any decisions.

CHRIS SMITH: There are so many other concepts and ideas here we could go on for quite some time, but can I raise one. Chapter five includes a proposal for what you call a ‘locked drivers licence’ for people who cant drive due to unpaid fines or other traffic infringements.

Am I right in saying the idea is to allow them to drive so they’re able to keep their job, or how is this going to work?

ANDREW FORREST: Exactly correct. When people are going to loose work or never get into work because they haven’t got a drivers licence and you’ve got employers out there willing to give them a real crack. So let’s not get in their road of being able to look after the kids. Let’s get them a licence they can only use for their job.

There’s other things in there I’m glad you picked up, like when people are in jail, [inaudible]. We just throw away the key and I don’t think that’s good. I think training should be mandatory and we should give those people the chance to get their drivers licence. You cant give them a car because they might drive it out the front gate, so what you do is you give people simulators.

We use simulators in the mining industry for people who’ve got no skills and they come out driving $3 million trucks. The same thing will work in jail but they come out with a drivers licence. They can get employed; they don’t have to go back.

CHRIS SMITH: Because we don’t want them to go back inside jail. That’s worst of all. Do you regret ever getting involved in this? I know you’re positive about it but it’s a hell of a mammoth undertaking.

ANDREW FORREST: No, I have many moments with my kids and my friends [inaudible]. It’s 24/7 every day of the week.

CHRIS SMITH: Fantastic. Thank you so much for coming in both of you, and no doubt Alan we’ll be speaking to you again as this comes closer to fruition. Congratulations on what you’ve achieved so far.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Chris.