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Recounting Abbott’s ‘contributions to Indigenous Australians’

8 Jun 2020

Tony Abbott was the Prime Minister, self-appointed Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Women and has been awarded a Queen's Honour. Here, we honour him and his contributions.

I know what you are thinking, about time right?

In honour of our former Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs’ being awarded an (whatever it was called) we have pulled together some of his more memorable ‘contributions’ in no particular order:

Cut $500M from the Indigenous affairs budget

He was the Prime Minister that had a vision. One of police stations and more mines but that money had to come from somewhere, right? Mining companies cannot possibly pay fair prices for land and be taxed for what resources they take from the land.

So the budget had $42 million cut from National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS); he cut to funding for Vibe Australia; there was $160 million cut from Indigenous health programs; a further $3.5 million cut to the Torres Strait Regional Authority; $15 million earmarked for the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples wascancelled and there was $9.5 million cut to Indigenous language support.

There were also devastating cuts to other front line services that addressed displacement and disenfranchisement.

The prison industry, on the other hand, was given an increase in funding, almost as though more people in jail was seen as a better use of funds than avenues to keep people out of jail.

Created the Indigenous Advancement Strategy

Following over half a billion cut from the Indigenous Affairs budget, he created the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) which was sold as making funding more effective. In effect, it further disempowered front line community services, preferenced organisations that agreed to support Recognise, and failed to deliver on promises.

An audit in 2019 would find “Five years after the introduction of the IAS, the department is in the early stages of implementing an evaluation framework”.

The IAS was administered by Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, who would also later be criticised for spending $560 million in his last few weeks in the job, in the lead up to the election; and for approving projects against departmental advice.

Claimed there was ‘nothing but bush’ here before 1788

‘As we look around this glorious city, as we see the extraordinary development, it’s hard to think that back in 1788 it was nothing but bush.’

– addressing a breakfast in Sydney to mark a visit by then British prime minister, David Cameron, in 2014

Intimated that Invasion was a form of ‘foreign investment’ 

I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then-unsettled or scarcely settled great south land.’

– at the Melbourne Institute economic conference, 2014

Recognise

Championed the issue of Indigenous recognition in the Constitution while simultaneously ensuring it would be symbolic only, effectively guaranteeing it could would never gain majority Indigenous support, or majority national support.

Created Recognise to promote Constitutional Recognition, which would go on to create one of the most problematic campaigns of the past few decades.

Rolled up the Indigenous Affairs Portfolio

Moved Indigenous Affairs into PM&C, giving him more direct control of Indigenous funding and policy. It was sold as a show of leadership that would streamline government process and save waste.

To be fair, when you consider how much time and energy federal government used to spend commissioning and then ignoring Indigenous reports, inquiries, and advisory groups; reducing, misspending, and being entirely unaccountable for Indigenous funding; and finding ways to make punitive policies look and sound empowering, you’ve got to acknowledge that Abbott did in fact streamline that process to great effect.

Called for a new form of paternalism

In an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, the then Health Minister said the basic problem of Indigenous disadvantage is not a lack of government spending but what he called “the culture of directionlessness in which so many Aboriginal people live.” He then called for a new form of paternalism where administrators with wide ranging powers moved in to run communities.

Created PM’s Indigenous Advisory Group

Created a PM’s Indigenous Advisory Group consisting of 12 handpicked Indigenous people, which had the effect of creating a one-stop shop he could ignore instead of every sector having to ignore their own localised and specialist Indigenous advisory bodies.

Lifestyle Choices

Said this as part of a prolonged attempt to defund and close down remote communities:

What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have.’

Unnecessary Apology

Abbott got heckled in 2007 for saying an apology to the Stolen Generations wasn’t necessary and went on to address members of the Stolen Generation present for the 10 year anniversary of the Bringing them Home Report:

“I admire your passion. After what you and your people have been through, I certainly understand your anger, but I know that you — indeed indigenous people — are patient.”

Then in 2009 claimed he was happy that Kevin apologised and proud that the Coalition supported it, saying “It was a mistake for us not to apologise to Aboriginal people. And I’m pleased when Kevin Rudd did decide to apologise that he was strongly supported by the Coalition”

These are just what we can recall from memory, so if we have missed anything, please share with the #UncleTonyOAM so we can gather and share.

Feature image is Tony Abbott in Arnhem Land, image credit: AAP

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