Billionaire Andrew ”Twiggy” Forrest has unleashed his fury at opponents of the cashless debit card, including the Greens. Photo: AAPFAIRFAX EXCLUSIVE
Billionaire philanthropist businessman Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has lashed out at opponents of the cashless debit card aimed at curbing substance abuse in remote Indigenous communities, singling out the Greens in particular whom he branded “the party for paedophiles”.
Arguing the switch to welfare payments via a cashless card would stop pensions being spent on drugs, alcohol, and pornography, he said the left-wing party, and others in Canberra were putting lofty principles, or in his words, “human rights horseshit” ahead of taking practical action in remote communities where children were often left to roam the streets at night because it was safer than in their homes where sexual abuse was rife.
The extraordinary attack came after Mr Forrest took aconfronting videoto Canberra midweek, which showed numerous incidents caught on CCTV cameras of brawls, one-punch assaults, unconscious children being assaulted, and drunken melees.
WARNING: Confronting footage
Incensed by what he views as the “principled distance” of the Greens, the long-term advocate of the cashless debit card for welfare recipients, presented the video to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, as well as crossbench parliamentarians, insisting that the period of examination should give way to the roll out of the card wherever it is requested by community leaders.
But he said the Greens declined his invitation to attend the viewing and associated talks.
“I’m asking the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition to put wedge politics aside and come out and strongly back the little children in vulnerable communities, because quite literally, while Australia dithers on this, children are dying.
“I want the government to listen to the communities. Governments are flat out listening to everyone else from the community from academics, to green politicians to people who don’t go to these communities, don’t care about these communities, and reckon they’re an authority on them, whereas we should just give the cashless debit card to those communities who are begging for it.”
Mr Forrest made the comments flanked by Indigenous community leaders, from Ceduna, Bianca Crake and Jean O’Reeri, as well as Port Headland mayor, Camillo Blanco.
An exasperated Mr Blanco said there shouldn’t be any deals or political negotiations in Canberra, merely immediate action to stop kids being harmed.
“And that’s the issue,” Mr Forrest said, “so while we play politics, Bill Shorten, Malcolm Turnbull, the cross benches, kids are dying and the instant someone plays politics, you literally consign another life to being molested, to being abused, to being kept from school, or worse, committing suicide.
“I have to hold the Greens accountable here; the Greens might as well be the party for paedophiles, the party for child sex abusers – you’re the party of human rights and you’ve forgotten the human rights of children, just call yourself the party for paedophiles.”
A clip from the video. Photo: Minderoo Foundation
Mr Forrest’s calls were enthusiastically backed by Alice Springs town councillor, Jacinta Price, who lamented the “racism of low expectations”, which seemed to cut in whenever the perpetrator of violence against an Indigenous person was another Indigenous person.
“We saw an expose onFour Cornerswith regard to the brutality in Don Dale [youth detention centre] and yet we see this kind of brutality where it’s again Indigenous violence, its Aboriginal people committing violence against other Aboriginal people, and it’s absolutely horrific, and yet, for some reason it’s dismissed … that sort of attitude is the very reason why Aboriginal people are at the very bottom,” she said.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert, who has been one of the biggest critics of the card, dismissed Mr Forrest’s comments.
“Andrew Forrest tends to run bizarre commentary against people who do not agree with his ideas and this is just another example,” she said.
“None of us has a monopoly on the truth and grown ups should be able to respectfully disagree about how best to tackle difficult situations.
“I will not be bullied into supporting the cashless welfare card and will not be dignifying his absurd and offensive comments any further.”
The cashless welfare card initiative, which sees80 per cent of welfarepayments quarantined against cash withdrawals, alcohol purchases and gambling, has sparked fierce debate since it was introduced, with bipartisan support, at two trial sites, East Kimberley, WA and Ceduna, SA, last year, both communities with high Indigenous populations.
The government announced plans in its last budget to expand the trial to two more sites, which could be named as early as next month. Its original legislation allowed for three trial sites, so for a fourth to be introduced, it must head back to the Senate, where the Greens remain in staunch opposition and Labor has indicated it would not support expansion into communities that do not want it.
Evaluations of the trial havefoundsome benefits, including a reduction in alcohol and drug abuse, and in some cases homelessness, but also included claims of work-arounds and anecdotal reports of increased crime, and almost half of the 2000 participants felt the card made their lives worse.
Mayor of Port Headland Camillo Blanko, Bianca Crake, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and Jean Reerie at Parliament House. Photo: Mick Tsikas
Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge said the government was considering its next steps and would make an announcement about where it plans on continuing the trial “in due course”.
“The card is not a panacea but the evaluation indicates it’s helping reduce alcohol and drug consumption, and gambling,” he said, adding that feedback from police and community leaders had been “immensely positive”.
“Very few other initiatives have had such impact.”
It is not the first time Mr Forrest has pushed for something like the cashless welfare card scheme, having advocated for a similar measure in his 2014 Creating Parity –The Forrest Review.