Topics: Forrest Review
JON FAINE: Twiggy Forrest, welcome back.
ANDREW FORREST: Thank you, sir.
JON FAINE: And you've brought with you a politician and yet you're bluing with the politicians, I read in the paper this morning. The headline in The Australian is 'Forrest slams Abbott's jobs plan'.
ANDREW FORREST: A sensationalist headline. Look, if two people always agree on everything, probably one of them is a waste of time. I have a firm view that we can reach 4 per cent employment outcomes amongst all model employers, including state and federal governments, including FMG.
But we do need things to change in how we train our Indigenous brothers and sisters, indeed all vulnerable Australians. We just can't do it the same way and hope for a different result.
JON FAINE: And yet the Prime Minister has a plan which I'm sure Alan Tudge will outline for us in just a moment, but he's saying 'hang on, we've got a plan and you're part of it. It's not your plan, it's our plan.' Is that partly - they don't want it amended or changed?
ANDREW FORREST: I've lived and breathed the employment of vulnerable Australians for now 20 years. It's not part of my portfolio, it's not something I do on the side. I live and breathe it.
I am aware employment service providers are in the business of business and they will do the best deal they can with government and produce the smallest outcome which they can like a lot of business people do. I'm not one of those, but basically if you allow an
employment service provider a weak outcome for the same pay as opposed to a strong outcome for the same pay, you can be pretty well relied they are going to wind up with a weak outcome. I don't want to see that continued.
JON FAINE: Alan Tudge is the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary. He's also tasked with trying to deal with this. Alan Tudge, thank you for coming in as well.
ALAN TUDGE: Good morning Jon.
JON FAINE: A political wedge between the Prime Minister and his handpicked adviser here?
ALAN TUDGE: I don't think so, Jon. Andrew has given us a report that is bold, it's ambitious, and it has 27 recommendations from early childhood all the way through to employment services and training and into jobs.
The issue that you're talking about here concerns one recommendation with the employment service providers. On that, we're largely aligned between Andrew Forrest and ourselves, but with a small disagreement over exactly how those employment service providers should be remunerated.
JON FAINE: Sure, the devil's in the detail. But it's all about the detail. You can agree in principle but it doesn't mean a thing until it comes to delivering it.
ALAN TUDGE: In some respects that is true. On this occasion, we've already put forward a reform proposal for the employment service providers to change it so there is much more emphasis on outcomes, because beforehand there was a lot of churning of people through employment service providers, without them going into jobs.
JON FAINE: But Mr Tudge, Indigenous disadvantage is absolutely littered, the path is littered with reports, it is littered with people of good intention and big hearts but very few measurable outcomes. How are you going to turn that around?
ALAN TUDGE: That's exactly why we asked Andrew Forrest to do this report for us.
JON FAINE: And he's given a report… [inaudible]
ALAN TUDGE: That's not true Jon. There are 27 recommendations in this report. They are big recommendations as you know, you've read through them all.
JON FAINE: Because it's a big problem.
ALAN TUDGE: It is a very big problem. I myself have been working on these issues for about 15 years.
JON FAINE: And nobody doubts your sincerity.
ALAN TUDGE: I believe in this report. It is also the first time we've had a report of this magnitude given directly to the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs as a blueprint for us to work on in cooperation with the states and territories and Indigenous leaders around the country.
JON FAINE: Twiggy?
ANDREW FORREST: In their defence, even that one recommendation… [interruption]
JON FAINE: You are not supposed to defend them. You are supposed to be having a go at them.
ANDREW FORREST: No, I'm here to tell you and your listeners the absolute truth Jon. In their defence, even on that one recommendation a large part of it we're in complete alignment with. However, I've just watched the billions of dollars get wasted when you don't have 26 week continuous employment outcomes because that's when psychologically and statistically a person changes from a welfare lifestyle to an employment lifestyle.
Once they've been in employment for 26 weeks straight and that of course is a hard road for an employment service provider to hit but hundreds have done it. We've been doing it for 15 years and I'm just saying this is a courageous path but it is a true path and it is an achievable path so let's go that extra mile - It's the only one which counts and let's put a 26 week employment outcome condition on these billions of dollars of precious taxpayers' money, so employment service providers have to step up as well.
The government has gone a long way. I'm just asking them to complete the journey.
JON FAINE: Alan Tudge, what we've got here is we have wept with Prime Minister after Prime Minister. You can go back to Malcolm Fraser creating the land rights legislation. Gough Whitlam pouring dirt into the hands of the Gurindji. You can go through to Bob Hawke, Paul Keating's Redfern speech. You can go through to John Howard's sincerity in relation to the stolen generation and then Kevin Rudd's apology to them.
On and on we can go. How are you and your government going to make a difference?
ALAN TUDGE: Well I think there are some key changes to our government. Firstly we've got the Prime Minister who has taken on responsibility himself for Indigenous affairs. That's the first time ever that has occurred in Australian political history. What that means is every Indigenous specific program now falls under his responsibility and it gives him the authority and his department the authority to be able to make decisions and work cooperatively on the ground with Aboriginal people.
JON FAINE: And how is that making a difference?
ALAN TUDGE: Already that's making a difference on the ground because the department has authority over other departments, and so it can align those programs better, it can negotiate with the authority of the Prime Minister.
We've already got Andrew Forrest's report which is providing a template for us, a blueprint for us. It is comprehensive this report. I know we've talked precisely about one part of it which applies to urban and regional Australia, it doesn't even apply to where the greatest crises is in remote Australia. What we've been talking about doesn't even apply in that area.
We need to be looking very closely at these recommendations of Andrews - to have better early childhood, to have fair dinkum school attendance measures because Jon, this is where a real crisis is occurring. In remote parts of Australia, only 25 per cent of kids are attending often enough to learn.
JON FAINE: Why would you go to school when you can go turtle hunting?
ANDREW FORREST: Exactly.
JON FAINE: Why would you? It's paradise. I've been to these communities lots of times and stayed in several of them. I have all sorts of connections to some of them. Why would you go to school when you can go turtle hunting?
ALAN TUDGE: I can tell you, Jon, if kids aren't going to school they are not going to be learning and they know where they'll end up. They'll end up on the welfare queue and probably in prison.
JON FAINE: Some of them do end up in prison, but they don't see the point of school. Some blow-in, coming in saying they are from the government… [inaudible interruptions]
ALAN TUDGE: 30 years ago, almost every single Indigenous child went to school.
JON FAINE: They were in missions.
ALAN TUDGE: That's right… [inaudible interruptions] The older people in the community are the most educated in the communities and they despair of the fact their younger kids aren't going to school these days and getting educated. They're the ones who are leading this charge, Jon.
ANDREW FORREST: Jon, I'm pleased to move on from that topic, but would like to say we've come a long way. I'm simply saying to the government that going out to tender for employment services, favour those who come back with 26 week employment outcomes. The people of Victoria and the people of Australia will get value for money.
Now you've moved to children not going to school. Fundamentally, if you don't send your child to school because you can't be bothered, in the end, what is it? You are setting that
child up with a real disparity, a precondition of failure. Are you fairly accused, perhaps, of child abuse because you cannot be bothered?
We spend, also, hundreds of millions of dollars each year, every Victorian voter spends hundreds of millions of dollars paying parents to send their kids to school through a structure called the family benefits allowance. When they don't do it, should we keep paying it? When they take that money, blow it on turtle hunting or gambling or drugs or whatever you like but they can't be bothered to send their kids to school, why should the people of Victoria keep paying them?
That's another condition of the review. You get your dole, you get your housing allowance… [inaudible] but that part of it you shouldn't get if you are going to be guilty of not being bothered to send your child to school and setting up that child for failure for life.
JON FAINE: Can I throw a curve ball at both of you, because it concerns me deeply and it's partly triggered, only a bit though, by a terrific commentary piece written by the new Senator from the Northern Territory, Nova Peris, which was published on The Guardian website a few weeks ago.
It was about, Alan Tudge, the government's domestic violence policy. She in a nutshell said it is meaningless because nowhere does it mention grog. She says until you deal with grog, you can't even start the conversation about domestic violence. Isn't it equally so with education and school, until you deal with grog in some of these communities, you haven't started the conversation.
ALAN TUDGE: Jon, I think you're right. In the Northern Territory about 65 per cent of domestic violence is connected to alcohol.
JON FAINE: And they've just changed the law to make grog more readily available and to cut back on some of the restrictions.
ALAN TUDGE: And Jon, I'm on the record as saying I don't support those.
ANDREW FORREST: Hang on, but they're not arguing against the Healthy Welfare Card.
ALAN TUDGE: Again, this is a big part, in fact it's probably the centrepiece of Andrew Forrest's report to us, is the recommendation for, in essence, welfare payments to be put onto a cashless debit card where you can use your welfare payments for absolutely anything but you wouldn't be able to purchase alcohol or spend it on gambling, or on drugs because you can access limited cash.
We're taking a very close look at this recommendation primarily because of the extent of alcohol in many of these communities which is killing these communities, frankly.
JON FAINE: So three middle-aged white guys sit in a studio in Melbourne and talk about what's best for people in remote, black Australia?
ANDREW FORREST: I've just come out of remote black Australia so I'd contest that a little. I've still got the dust under my fingernails and I can tell you that what's dragging down my Indigenous family up there is grog.
When they get that welfare cheque and the first person on their front door is a drug dealer, pushing the gunja, 'I've got this great idea, have you tried crystal meth, you guys would love crystal meth…'
JON FAINE: 'I'll give you some for nothing'
ANDREW FORREST: 'Yeah, just get you started mate. Here's this little packet for you. Give it to your kids, they'll all love it.' When they're the first people on the doorstep of the welfare cheque recipient, then you know you've got a serious problem because gunja is bad enough, that's marijuana, but crystal meth will kill people quickly and have them drag society down with them.
We've been watching this happen with alcohol for four decades now and things have got to change. We cannot hope for a different result by words and reports. We've physically got to change. I would say to all the people of Victoria, the cashless debit card for vulnerable Australians will lift your state.
We have vulnerable Australians all over Victoria – black and white – who are dragged down by drugs and alcohol. Give them a chance. Back a card that for the first time has the technology to stop that.
JON FAINE: And to those who say you're just the missionaries reincarnated – you're trying to imprison us all over again – what's your response?
ANDREW FORREST: Good luck with that. We're throwing people the keys to get out. The people who have been imprisoned are the Indigenous people and the vulnerable Australians who are locked up in the shackles of alcohol and grog and we want to release those shackles.
JON FAINE: As often as not, it's the women who show the leadership in the community, so do you need to somehow get strong women in leadership positions from Indigenous communities to pick up this challenge and run with it?
ALAN TUDGE: I think that's true Jon. There are leaders across Australia who we have been negotiating with, working with, talking with them about some of these proposals. We want to be able to work with those leaders of those communities to say, listen, does this look attractive to you.
Some of them have already publicly come out, such as the leaders in the East Kimberley to say we want the entire Forrest reform package. They are a region we will be able to work
with should we go down this path. There are other areas like the APY lands where the women's council is leading the charge there…
JON FAINE: The APY lands, the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara…
ALAN TUDGE: Exactly right, in Central Australia, again it's the women there who are leading the charge. They are the ones who want to get on top of alcohol. They are the ones who want to have their kids sent to school. They are the ones who are in discussions with us about these reforms and negotiating with us in relation to these reforms.
You are absolutely right Jon, you have to do this with the consultation of the Indigenous people on the ground, otherwise you don't get anywhere.
JON FAINE: Finally to those on the right of politics who say 'oh no, you can't create special rules for Aboriginal people, that's the wrong way to go about it. You can't have one rule for them, and a different rule for everybody else.'
ALAN TUDGE: And what we've been talking about today would be rules which would apply to everybody. They wouldn't be applying just to Indigenous people, they would apply to black and white people.
ANDREW FORREST: I don't think they are so much 'rules'. I mean this is really freeing people to get on with their lives, Jon. People are stuck in welfare all over Australia. Ask them candidly, 'do you really like this lifestyle, are you happy with it? You see what other people are doing? Are you happy with all the restrictions which welfare is enforcing on you?'
They will shake their heads in despair and say 'no, get me out of this mate.' We can show a way out, so let's take it.
JON FAINE: Some would agree, some maybe wouldn't. But either way, it's a debate that we have to have as a nation. Just one final word Twiggy Forrest, are you in it for the long haul? Because one of the things you also hear time and time again if you tour remote communities, they say 'ah yeah, these people with their ideas, they come and they go, I've seen it all before, we'll see it all again.'
ANDREW FORREST: I was nurtured as a child with black hands, brought up with black hands on spoons which rattled by backside when I did things wrong, which was often. My mentors to this day are still Indigenous people who I love dearly. I am in it for the long haul.
JON FAINE: Fascinating and a debate the nation needs to embrace, whatever the outcome we don't know but the debate in itself is absolutely vital. Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest, thank you very much yet again for your time this morning with Alan Tudge also, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister looking exactly at these issues, and the speech delivered last night well worth a read. Thank you both for coming in.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Jon.