MARK COLVIN: Already there have been critics within the Aboriginal community and Reconciliation Australia has suggested, least implied, that there maybe a level of unrealism in what you’ve done, there’s been criticism that you’re overly ambitious. How do you answer that?
ANDREW FORREST: We would expect that because we’ve had 150 years of failure and there’s all, you know as the great man said to me yesterday, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We’ve never had before, and Reconciliation Australia and all these other excellent organisations have never had before, an Australian employment sector, a corporate sector, which is simply had enough of watching the welfare system fail, and it said to me, en masse, let’s do something about it.
MARK COLVIN: Over the last few days, you’ve heard people talking about some of the barriers to all this that it’s very difficult to get people to move out of their traditional communities to go to work. Those have been barriers in the past, both for Aborigines and for employers. How do you overcome them?
ANDREW FORREST: I would like to live where I originally grew up in the Pilbara, and certainly I would one day like to have a house in Thredbo. But I’m not just going to go and live in Thredbo because it happens to suit me, I’m going to have to get a job, get real employment, earn the money and pay for it. Then I’m very happy to have my holiday house in the Pilbara or at Thredbo.
But in the meantime, like every other Australian, I’ve got to be prepared to work for it. As Noel Pearson says, “If you give people a small grant like, you know, the ability to catch a train to go and train.” And he coins it, “Train to train”, then we have a situation where people know the practical reality of employment, even necessarily choosing that you live exactly where you want to. You need to go to where the jobs are.
That is the situation and Aboriginal people who I have spoken to, have said to me, “Well, we’re prepared to move, Andrew, but why would we move when we actually don’t have a guaranteed outcome. We will go somewhere, we’ll leave our home, we’ll leave our families, or we’ll risk taking our families with us, but why would be take that risk and relocating our families to where the employment is, if there’s no jobs there?” Well now we can answer, “Yes, there will be a job for you, yes, you can come with your families, and yes, you can take control of your own life.”
MARK COLVIN: In business, you set yourself targets, actually you set yourself very big targets, but you’re also, you accept being benchmarked to being judged on how well you’ve reached those targets. You were talking about 50,000 jobs. When are you prepared to be judged on results?
ANDREW FORREST: Well I have to admit to you that my original target was a little higher than that and I worked with industry economists, my own colleagues, people in the Aboriginal employment industry, and we settled the target of 50,000 because it was, while it was very seriously outside all our comfort zones, we believe because of the expression of great will and wonderful heart, the generosity of Australian spirit, which we’ve seen in the corporate and the national employment sector, that 50,000 was achievable now.
I’ve shared with the Prime Minister privately that we would have crack at this as an internal target within two years. But I would say to you, that is a very steep target, and if we did it in longer than that, I’d think the result would be outstanding. We would have changed as an Australian nation of employers, the course of social history for our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
It does seem that Kevin Rudd may be on side. It may be a way forward; let’s listen carefully.