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Five Wasted Years

Someone should tell Tony that he’s no longer Prime Minister.

Actually, someone should tell him, he can’t be special envoy for Indigenous affairs as well! It is more than disturbing that Abbott has been given free rein in the area.

Someone should also remind him that his 727 days in the country’s highest office were some of its most bizarre, chaotic and ineffective.

All the recent talk of Abbott’s recent ascent to Lord of Indigenous affairs has overlooked, as Tony himself has pointed out, the last five years of government. The last five years under three Prime Ministers and what they have done for or to Aboriginal people.  We need to look at the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison governments as a collective.

The area that has continued to be the most challenging for governments of all persuasions is that of Indigenous affairs. Spanning the scope of education, health, housing, justice, employment, land management constitutional reform and national identity. The lack of policy ambition and commitment to change by the successive regimes is resulting in stagnated outcomes.

Before coming to office, Tony Abbott proclaimed he would be the “Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.”

With that proclamation, one of the first acts of the Abbott Government was to break an election promise and cut $534 million funding from Indigenous programs and streamline remaining funding into the much spruiked, but underachieving Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

The strategy for the first time removed the notion that Aboriginal Community Controlled Settings were best placed to cater to the needs of their own communities. This remains the greatest threat to the community controlled sector and to self-determination at the service delivery level.

It turned out that Abbott’s commitment to Indigenous affairs was the occasional photo opportunity. He could regularly be seen sitting in the red dust of remote communities, looking knowingly while speaking to members of those communities or patting kids on the head.

When does a picture speaks a thousand words?

Tony Abbott is Special Envoy to looking at camera’s.

Not Aboriginal children offering their hand.

It’s all about him/them folks. ? #auspol#thedrum#abc730#4Cornerspic.twitter.com/7G3zNZclhl

— michael halliday777 (@michaelhallida4) August 27, 2018

He would then return to the comfort of Sydney radio studios to report that those who lived in remote communities did so as a “lifestyle choice” and ruminate on the subject of WA Government closing remote communities, presumably to help find the fund the Perth’s $1.6 billion sports stadium, in which West Australians could sit and marvel at the talents of the game’s Aboriginal players, as long as they don’t get too uppity.

The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief when Abbott was deposed by Malcolm Turnbull.

Abbott would return to the back benches, his lifestyle choice of being a curmudgeon, anglophile and a friend to shock jocks everywhere a success.

But what of Malcolm?

Turnbull, to his credit, did immediately launch the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory on the back of a damning 4corners report.

To his discredit, he restricted the scope of the Royal Commission to the Territory when there is a national crisis in the over-representation of Aboriginal youth in the justice systems across the country. If he had listened, he would have been reminded that 53% of youth in detention are Aboriginal and that our children are currently being jailed at a rate 25x higher than non-Aboriginal children.

Another wasted opportunity for national action on a national shame.

But it is on the question of national identity, the kind of Australia we want to be, that was to be Turnbull’s greatest failing when it came to Indigenous policy. His Government was gifted a once in a generation opportunity when a collective of Indigenous people from across the country handed him the Uluru Statement. Turnbull promptly rejected the Statement and then mischaracterised by perpetuating the misnomer that it called for a third chamber of Parliament.

For all of Turnbull’s proclamations on Indigenous Advancement, it is his rejection of the Uluru Statement that history will judge him for the harshest.

And so we reach our third Prime Minister in five years, Scot Morrison and what was one of his first acts? To give the Aboriginal community Tony Abbott!

Remote communities now need an Abbott proof fence. #qanda

— Daniel James (@MrDTJames) September 10, 2018

To appease the old and the restless on his backbench, Morrison has made former Deputy PM and climate change denier, Barnaby Joyce Special Envoy for Drought Relief, a gift that long-suffering farmers would welcome, and Tony Abbott Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs.

It would seem that the new Prime Minister is content with the current lack of policy ambition, happy to be seen ticking the boxes, without a real commitment to driving meaningful change for Aboriginal people.

It is yet to be seen whether the ALP will do any better. When John Howard invented the Northern Territory intervention, he designed it purely as a Tampa like a wedge to make the opposition look soft. The result, the Northern Territory is just as much part of the ALP’s legacy, as it is the LNP.

The result for the Aboriginal community?

In 2018 every child in youth detention in the NT is Aboriginal.

We’ve had five wasted years as our political masters have been more intent on their internal power plays than on the ongoing national crises suffered by Aboriginal people as a result of racism and intergenerational trauma.

We need both political parties to produce meaningful policy ambition quickly, and the first step is to actually listen to us. Not by imposing on us washed up politicians, the political crumb of envoy ship for a series of issues that require full attention of the government, from whomever is in charge.

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