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Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest needs Tony Abbott's support for his policy to work

Andrew Forrest, who has amassed a $3.6 billion fortune over the past ten years, making him one of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs, admits he doesn’t have the formal qualifications on social policy that are typically used to produce a report like his Creating Parity welfare paper.

There are plenty of interest groups that will agree with that assessment.

His radical views on the income management of welfare recipients – which would have them lose control of much of their discretionary spending and include a ban on buying alcohol – have spooked even Tony Abbott, who commissioned Forrest’s report.

Others have simply slammed the recommendations.

But Forrest believes he has a different set of credentials that allow him insight into the effects of social, income and employment disparity.


"To be qualified isn’t about whether I have been on welfare or am indigenous. It's about empathy and having sufficient courage to recommend change. It isn’t sympathy."

Forrest grew up on a cattle property in a remote area of the Pilbara in Western Australia, surrounded by an indigenous community. He counted many in that community as his friends and adopted family. 

Since establishing his iron ore empire, Forrest has used his public profile and resources to promote schemes for getting indigenous Australians to work.

No stranger

He is certainly no stranger to creating charities and organisations to deal with social issues.

The centrepiece of Forrest’s indigenous work has been the GenerationOne project and its partner scheme, the Australian Employment Covenant.

By most measures the Australian Employment Covenant has been a major success, getting 20,000 indigenous people off welfare and appropriately trained by enlisting other companies to guarantee them jobs. There are 60,000 job vacancies in the pipeline waiting to be filled.

GenerationOne advocates government policies that push demand-driven training models to become the rule, not the exception. 

But in many respects Forrest’s work has been frustrated by limited support from state and federal governments.  

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was supportive of GenerationOne but his government's policy did not embrace many of the principles central to the Australian Employment Covenant.

Forrest later found himself in a more testing relationship with the Gillard government and, in particular, its treasurer Wayne Swan, with whom he crossed swords over the mining tax.

Forrest’s report on Creating Parity will rely heavily on adoption by the Abbott government.

While the prime minister has lauded it as brave, bold and ambitious, he has already distanced himself from some of the more radical proposals, suggesting he will not be as brave, bold or ambitious.

Canberra option

When asked if it may be easier to effect change if he enters politics, Forrest says he had never given any real thought to running for office. He would rather support people in power though policy suggestions, he says.

Nevertheless, running non-political campaigns is what the billionaire does when his time is not employed with his primary resources company, Fortescue Minerals.

Earlier this year, Forrest launched the Global Freedom Network, an organisation with the ambitious task of ending global slavery. It has enlisted the tri-lateral support of the world heads of the Catholic, Anglican and Sunni Muslim faiths.

But Forrest may ultimately find it easier to get agreement from world religious leaders than an Australian prime minster.

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