The West

Cautious welcome for Forrest welfare plan
Vision: Andrew Forrest with Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion, right. Picture: AAP

WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier says billionaire Andrew Forrest's welfare reform proposals have "real merit" and would be supported by many Aboriginal communities.

As Prime Minister Tony Abbott backed away from Mr Forrest's contentious plan for a Healthy Welfare Card that would prevent those on working-age welfare accessing cash or spending payments on alcohol or gambling, Mr Collier said the proposal might be a bridge too far for the wider community.

However, he said it should be explored further if there was consent within individual communities.

Reaction yesterday to Mr Forrest's blueprint to end Aboriginal disadvantage was dominated by criticism of his welfare reform plans.

They would apply to 2.5 million Australians on welfare payments, excluding age and veteran pensioners.

"I think there's some real merit in that and I think you'll find a lot of (people) in the Aboriginal community will support that," Mr Collier said of the welfare plan, which Mr Forrest argues will slash drug and alcohol abuse.

"There is income management in some communities now.

"There does need to be consent, but I can almost guarantee that communities would not be averse to it. They are desperate to do something to close the gap."

Shadow Aboriginal affairs minister Ben Wyatt, a descendant of the North West Yamatji people, said he understood the interest in the welfare proposal but there was "a fair bit more in" Mr Forrest's report.

"There are a range of interesting recommendations about Government procurement (a 4 per cent target from Aboriginal-owned businesses), incentives for indigenous business and some things that have been around for a long time," Mr Wyatt said.

The report recommends that prison inmates be taught to drive and that consistent rules of provisional driver's licences for unpaid fines and traffic infringements be instituted to support people who need to drive to work.

Goldfields Aboriginal leader Aubrey Lynch, who backed Mr Forrest's Murrin Murrin nickel project two decades ago, supported the report.

"I've seen the destruction that alcohol and drugs do to our people up here, everywhere - not just the Goldfields but all over the place," he said.

Mr Abbott, who launched the report in Sydney yesterday alongside Mr Forrest, said it contained parts "outside what is currently politically doable".

The West Australian

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