Tony Abbott Is Not The Prime Minister For Indigenous Affairs

24 Aug 2015

Tony Abbott calling himself the PM for Indigenous Affairs is similar to my young niece calling herself Batman.

Tony Abbott calling himself the PM for Indigenous Affairs is similar to my young niece calling herself Batman. It was fairly cute at first, but after the hundredth time she has punched me and ran away screaming ‘I’m Batman!!’, the joke is wearing kinda thin.

Every move Tony has made has shown he is not a PM for Indigenous Affairs; moving portfolios and responsibilities for Indigenous Affairs into the PM&C, gutting Indigenous funding through the ‘Indigenous Advancement Strategy’, closing essential services, closing communities in Western Australia, ignoring evidence based approaches in favour of ideologically driven agendas, ignoring community voices, getting people like Andrew Forrest to write reports on ending Indigenous disparity, ignoring the Expert Panels report on Constitutional Recognition, begging Andrew Bolt to keep writing when he was found to have maliciously racially vilified a group of Aboriginal people, trying to remove section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and further water down Native Title, refusing to add justice targets to the annual Close the Gap reports, and making innumerable racist, ignorant and intentionally inflammatory comments about Indigenous peoples, cultures and history.

As I write this, Tony has just said of Eddie Mabo, during his visit to the Torres Strait, ‘good on him for having a go, and ultimately good on our system for being able to accommodate Eddie Mabo and the other plaintiffs’ cry for justice’. Despite being oddly patronising in phrasing, it is also bewildering that he would congratulate ‘our system’ knowing full well that the Liberal party have fought relentlessly ever since the High Court judgement to negate Native Title, originally by watering down the Native Title Act, and today via undermining Native Title under the guise of ‘real private property rights for Aboriginal communities’. (In 1994, Abbott himself used Mabo as an example of the ways in which Paul Keating was “dividing this nation” and as a reason the Keating government need to be removed). He also bizarrely said that “we not only recognise native title but we appreciate the fact that Indigenous people have rights to their land’. A huge contrast to his ‘lifestyle choices’ comments in regards to closing Aboriginal communities, but undoubtedly this will not lead to any actual change in his desire to close those communities, or further erode Native Title rights.

It seems Tony is simply incapable of mentioning Indigenous peoples without putting the boot in, or putting his foot in it. Usually both.

This is largely consistent with his claims to be a PM for women as well, and is the general tone of his entire Prime Ministership. Ignoring facts, ignoring evidence, ignoring his own party, acting in secret, supporting billionaire mining companies, fighting for bigots rights, undermining the rule of law, and constantly blaming and demonising his opponents; basically running the country the same way he ran his election campaign. Full of unfulfilled promises, meaningless political spin, and aggressively attacking any and all who stand in his way.

Yet, somehow, despite all of this, some people still believe that he sincerely wants to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples, and often point to his promise to spend a week in an Indigenous community each year (or his tax payer funded ‘volunteering’ in Indigenous communities prior to taking office), or the push for Constitutional Change as evidence of this.

I have long been critical of these gestures as being little more than political stunts. One to win over an uncritical electorate, and the latter to try and secure a place in history as anything other than the racist, backwards, and detrimental Prime Minister that he has repeatedly proven himself to be.

Constitutional Change is a complex issue, and has relied heavily on this complexity to avoid any meaningful statements of what it will actually mean, or even what the final model taken to a referendum would actually include. This has not stopped the campaign from claiming that it is something that an overwhelming majority of Indigenous Australians desperately want, along with the rest of Australia.

There have been some clear hints however. Dismissing the recommendations of the final report of the Expert Panel into recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution was an early one. Initially refusing to support Indigenous led conventions on recognition a more recent one, and although he eventually conceded on these conventions he has placed clear mechanisms to ensure that whatever is produced from these meetings can similarly be ignored and he can continue with the push for meaningless symbolic changes. As Jimblah, a Larrikia man and prominent musician noted in the IndigenousX article regarding our survey on Constitution Recognition, “The Recognise campaign is a great opportunity to make Australia feel as if we as a nation are moving forward in the right direction, when in actual fact we are going backwards.”

Just as he has tried to sabotage the push for marriage equality, just as he is trying to sabotage environmental laws, and just as he has tried to sabotage journalistic integrity in Australian media, he is sabotaging the process for any hope of meaningful Constitutional Recognition along with any meaningful hope of improving government processes in Indigenous Affairs. When this inevitably fails I am sure he will simply blame Labour, activists, Indigenous people, and anyone else he can point a finger at.

Abbott only has the same tired three point slogan when it comes to Indigenous Affairs

“Kids need to go to school”. Attendance rates are down from 63% to 59% since Abbott introduced his $47 million attendance drive.

“Adults need to go to work.” Abbott’s Aboriginal employment champion, Twiggy Forrest, has recently been criticised for failing to get meaningful employment outcomes for a significant number of participants via Generation One. Also, the ‘Healthy Welfare’ card (aka Basics Card, aka compulsory income management) promoted by Twiggy and adopted by Abbott which he is rolling out nationally has been proven not to work.

“Communities need to be safe.”  Abbott has defunded essential community services, forcing many to downsize or disappear altogether, and has refused to add justice targets to the Closing The Gap reports.

You might also notice that not one of these slogans acknowledges the role of government or their responsibility to provide quality and culturally relevant education; employment opportunities, specifically those which bring opportunities for social, cultural and economic development; or essential services designed to keep individuals, families and communities safe. Instead each of these places the responsibility, and the blame, solely on Aboriginal people and presents us as a problem to be fixed by government (always with punitive measures), rather than acknowledging that these situations exist as a result of government action and/or lack thereof and that many communities, organisations, and experts, have long been crying out for meaningful engagement with government on implementing proactive ways to address them.

The simple truth is that Tony Abbott is not the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, and he never will be. The only question is how long the Australian people will allow him to continue with the charade.

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