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Issue #1839      September 12, 2018

Abbott envoy for Indigenous affairs “an insult”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have slammed new Prime Minister Scott Morrison for appointing former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as special envoy for Indigenous affairs. Abbott was given the role after being left out of the new ministry, in an effort to heal the wounds of last month’s damaging leadership coup.

Yawuru man and Labor Senator Pat Dodson said the appointment was “yet another example of the Liberal National party playing a game with themselves, placating each other’s egos and trivialising First Nations people’s concerns and long ignored calls for justice and recognition.

“Labor is seriously concerned about appointing the ex-self-appointed ‘Prime Minister for Indigenous affairs’ to the role of ‘envoy,’ given his ignorant, hopeless and frankly offensive track record on Indigenous issues,” Senator Dodson said.

“As Prime Minister, he cut over $500 million from Indigenous programs in the 2014 federal budget. And who can forget his profoundly offensive comments in 2015, claiming that people living in remote communities without adequate services were making a ‘lifestyle choice’ while defending his government’s decision to close up to 150 remote communities?”

The co-chairs of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Jackie Huggins and Rod Little, demanded Morrison retract the job offer to Abbott.

“We, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, have cried enough over you and other politicians responsible for devastating policies and minimising our representation,” Dr Huggins said.

“Let’s reflect on Mr Abbott’s history of supporting harmful, paternalistic policies relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs.

“This is the man who systematically dismantled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy; tried to mainstream service provision; cut over $500 million from our services; attempted to silence the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples by removing its funding: and handpicked his mates for the Indigenous Advisory Council.

“Mr Abbott’s sole accomplishment was robbing our peoples of our right to self-determination.”

However, Morrison said he had travelled with Abbott to remote communities and experienced his passion first-hand.

“I know how passionate Tony Abbott is about changing generationally the life circumstances for Indigenous Australians,” he said. “When you focus on the outcomes, which I know is what Tony is doing, that makes him the right person.”

Indigenous education organisation Stronger Smarter Institute chief executive Darren Godwell questioned how Abbott’s appointment would help achieve additional benefits for the Indigenous community, particularly in regard to education.

“Mr Abbott’s focus on school attendance of Indigenous students is not backed by the majority of research, which shows the strongest predictors of improved educational outcomes are teacher efficacy and student engagement. This is where priorities and resources should lie,” Godwell said.

Senator Dodson said the appointment was an insult.

“First Nations people have been asking to have a voice where their views are put forward themselves rather than by some sort of intermediary whose record, quite frankly, is appalling,” he said. “The suggestion that Tony Abbott could act as some kind of messenger or representative for First Nations people is condescending to the overwhelming number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who support the calls for a Voice to Parliament and a Makarrata Commission to oversee truth-telling and agreement-making – both of which Mr Abbott has not supported.”

Abbott did not respond to interview requests from the Koori Mail but told reporters in Sydney that he’d been to a lot of remote schools, over the years.

“We need to get attendance up and standards up because there is no better thing we can do for kids than ensuring that they’ve got the best possible schooling,” he said.

Some constitutional experts have suggested that accepting the position – even though in one interview Abbott claimed he would not take payment – would mean that Abbott would fall foul of Section 44 of the Constitution, which bans MPs from accepting payment from the Commonwealth.

Koori Mail

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