The West

Forrest s blueprint to fight Aboriginal disadvantage
Forrest's blueprint to fight Aboriginal disadvantage

All Australian welfare recipients, except age pensioners and veterans, would be prevented from spending their payments on alcohol or gambling under a key recommendation of billionaire Andrew Forrest's plan to deal with Aboriginal disadvantage.

Mr Forrest, commissioned by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to review indigenous training and employment programs, has produced a blueprint that goes far beyond those issues, including reform of the welfare system, a focus on early intervention in childhood health, crackdowns on truancy and tax breaks for Aboriginal businesses that support training and employment.

The report draws on Mr Forrest's convictions that Aboriginals have been condemned by the "racism of low expectations".

While describing the report as bold and ambitious yesterday, Mr Abbott said some of the recommendations would test public opinion. "I suspect some of the things in the report will be testing for public opinion as it currently stands," he said.

"Some of the things in the report will run well ahead of any plans the Government currently has. But it is a bold, ambitious and brave report."

Former Labor treasurer Wayne Swan and the Greens criticised the plan to introduce income management on such a broad scale.

The report says that for Aboriginal and other Australians with certificate III or IV level training, a university diploma or degree, there is no difference in employment outcomes.

"We need to be clear about education as the right of every child," Mr Forrest says in the 244-page report Creating Parity, which will be released today by Mr Abbott.

"Given the undeniable fact that there is no employment gap, or disparity, for first Australians who are educated at the same level as other Australians, the full force of our national community leaders and government must pack behind the achievement of parity in educational outcomes as the national priority.

"This starts with individual responsibility during pregnancy, intensive early childhood preparation and decent schooling."

Mr Forrest criticises a lack of co-operation between Commonwealth, State and Territory governments and says they must be more accountable for the outcomes of billions of dollars of spending on Aboriginal disadvantage.

He says programs that cannot demonstrate effective outcomes should be "defunded" and calls for the establishment of a website - such as the Gillard government's MySchool - to report and track progress.

"Measures such as intensive prenatal and early childhood services, strict education focus, tax incentives and the proposed Health Welfare Card are imperative," the report says.

"Seismic, not incremental, change is required and the time for decisive action is now.

"These solutions are not expensive and parity is completely achievable with sufficient will from each of us." Mr Forrest's welfare proposals are most contentious and are unlikely to be adopted in full by the Government, despite his insistence that every measure in his report must be implemented wholesale. Premier Colin Barnett, who was personally briefed by Mr Forrest on the report in recent days, said there was "a lot of merit" in the welfare proposals.

"I do think income maintenance is important, particularly in Aboriginal communities but also elsewhere in the community, not exclusively for Aboriginal families," he said.

"That is important and I do believe that where people get payments, there is a mutual obligation to give something back to the community and that's good for the individual."

The West Australian

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