This week’s interview is with the Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, Ms Khatija Thomas. The focus of this interview is on the Commissioner’s community consultations about the report of the Forrest Review of Indigenous Jobs and Training, called Creating Parity.
By way of background, in 2013, the Prime Minister asked Mr Andrew (or ‘Twiggy’) Forrest to lead a Review of Indigenous Training and Employment Programmes across Australia.
Mr Forrest’s Review was finalised and he provided his final report to the Prime Minister.
‘Creating Parity’ sets out 27 recommendations that focus on things like the provision of services around early childhood, schooling, further education and training, employment and welfare or income support.
At the time that the Forrest Report was made public, the Premier of South Australia said that he and his cabinet offered the ‘broadest possible support’ to all 27 recommendations in the report. This included support for the income management of up to 100 per cent of a person’s welfare payment being quarantined on a “healthy welfare” card.
The Premier then asked the Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement to consult with Aboriginal communities in South Australia about their views on the recommendations. She held 12 community consultations between 18th September and 3rd October 2014, and in June 2015 she provided a Summary Feedback Report which outlines the views of communities and organisations. Unfortunately, she was not able to consult with APY communities.
In the interview, the Commissioner highlights key issues arising from the consultations. Some of the recommendations received ‘no support’ while others received ‘broad’ or ‘qualified’ support. The communities’ views on the ‘Healthy Welfare Card’ indicate that there was no support for 100% quarantine of a person’s Centrelink money.
The Federal Government has already begun implementing some of the recommendations from the Forrest Review, irrespective of what communities and organisations have been saying or the feedback that has been provided from community consultations. For example, three pilot sites have already been identified across Australia to look at the implementation of what Forrest called the ‘Healthy Welfare Card’, with 100% of people’s income benefits being quarantined. In South Australia, Ceduna on the West Coast has been identified as one of the three pilot sites. The Commissioner indicated that preliminary discussions are underway in Ceduna – including a number of communities such as Yalata, Scotdesco and Koonibba – regarding the way forward with the pilot trial of the Healthy Welfare Card.
And Work-For-the-Dole, another Forrest Review recommendation, is being rolled out across communities as from 1st July. In remote communities, the previous Community Development and Employment Program or CDEP, was changed and renamed the Remote Jobs and Communities Program. This has now been renamed the Community Development Program and requires that community members work for the dole by working 25 hours a week to qualify for their income benefits.