Earlier this year Rachel Nolan, former minister in Anna Bligh's Queensland Labor government, wrote about Tony Abbott's "favourite minority": the "older, private school-educated, conservative white men" whom he has appointed to key positions since becoming prime minister. Much was then made of Abbott's Commission of Audit – headed by Sydney businessman Tony Shepherd – which recommended sweeping cuts to the welfare state ahead of the budget. Against the Commission's report the budget looked positively reasonable.
Today another of Abbott's appointments, billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest, has delivered on his brief to report on ways to improve training and education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Forrest has no particular expertise in this area apart from a compassionate interest and a personal record in looking for innovative ways to promote Indigenous employment. His views would no doubt have been warmly welcomed by a broader inquiry which might have synthesised a range of views and experiences.
As it happens, Forrest's report goes well beyond his brief, and advocates a return to the paternalistic and punitive welfare models of centuries past for not just Indigenous welfare recipients but hundreds of thousands of others. There are echoes of the "poor laws" of British mercantilism in his proposal to punish parents for their children's non-attendance at school. His proposal to extend "income management" – that attempt at controlling how welfare recipients spend their money which has proven so divisive among Aboriginal communities – harks back to the trust accounts of past decades. Like the Audit Commission's report, Forrest's report will be a bridge too far for the government, which begs the question: why does it persist in asking wealthy businessmen to report on matters outside their expertise?
Russell Marks Politicoz Editor
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