Mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest looked close to tears this morning as he described the plight of a four-year-old Aboriginal girl living on a remote community.

“I see in her the future and hope of our nation. I see in this dear little girl all the hope, all the future … And then I see beyond her, into her home, and I see her drug-addicted older sister, who’s become quite wealthy peddling drugs,” he said, at the launch of his blueprint for indigenous welfare and employment in western Sydney.

“Quite wealthy” was an odd way for the billionaire to describe a disadvantaged Aboriginal teenager, and it spoke to the disconnect between those peddling welfare reform in remote communities — notably, The Australian newspaper, Noel Pearson and the Abbott government — and those actually living in them.

It’s all very well to say we need an end to the “poison of sit-down money”, but where are the jobs to replace it? Certainly not on the communities that dot the Northern Territory desert, many of which can claim one shop that sells five-day old vegetables if they’re lucky.

The bulk of Forrest’s report, which has been embraced by the Abbott government as “bold and ambitious”, is focused on income management, punitive measures, and on blaming people who live in areas with no jobs for not having them. “It’s very easy to generate a shock horror headline — but that doesn’t help the debate,” Tony Abbott said at this morning’s launch. “Andrew Forrest and I are at one … There has to be consequences for sub-optimal behaviour.”

However, it’s clear that Forrest’s concern about the inequality facing Aboriginal people in remote communities is real — and the report does contain some admirable measures that could help create more jobs in remote areas: new job centres that fund training only when it is linked to a guaranteed job, and tax breaks for Aboriginal-run firms that have a minimum of 60% indigenous employees and 40% disadvantaged job seekers.

These will likely be overlooked as it is hijacked by the Abbott government to dodge its real responsibilities in the travesty that is Aboriginal disadvantage in this country in the 21st century.

Peter Fray

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