We do not need a special envoy, we need our leaders to listen
August 29, 2018
Author: Luke Pearson
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Luke Pearson is the founder and director of IndigenousX.
Tony Abbott, our former PM and former self-declared Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, and Minister for Women, is now a ‘special envoy’ to the PM on Indigenous Affairs.
At a time when Indigenous voices have been stifled and ignored more than any time in recent history; a time when many Indigenous people are calling for a Treaty, or at the very least for A Voice To Parliament in an effort to have a greater say over issues that affect us, our new PM makes his first gesture in Indigenous Affairs based on party politics and not on what is in the best interest of Indigenous peoples.
Indigenous people: We want a voice to parliament. ScoMo: Ok, Tony Abbott will be your voice. Indigenous ppl: … we're speechless. ScoMo: Perfect.
It is a patronising and bewildering move that makes no sense seen through any other light than internal party politics.
That sentence sums up much of what is wrong with the approach of the Liberal party, our current Opposition in Exile; they do not factor in the best interests of the people they are meant to serve.
Not even as an afterthought.
It is patronising because we do not need a ‘special envoy’ when we have so many capable and talented Indigenous people in Australia more than able to speak for ourselves. We do not need a non-Indigenous individual to act as a ‘conduit’ between us and government, or to give advice on our behalf. Especially not when that individual already did so much damage to the Indigenous Affairs portfolio when he was in power. The only solace we can take is that he has much less power in this new role.
In case you forgot, Tony Abbott was responsible for disbanding a wide array of Indigenous advisory groups which he replaced with his handpicked ‘PM’ advisory group. He took over half a billion dollars out of the Indigenous Affairs budget with no real planning or reflection. He spoke of invasion as a ‘form of British investment’, and of Australia as being ‘nothing but bush’ before 1788. He also expressed his belief that invasion and the ongoing colonisation was a good thing to have happened to Indigenous people. He was the mastermind behind the failed Recognise campaign, and supports only minimalist recognition of Indigenous peoples. He does not support a treaty/makarrata, or even a Voice to Parliament. He supported the closure of remote communities calling them subsidised ‘lifestyle choices’, and has a long history of opposing native title and land rights. Ot only did he champion the attacks of 18C, but there was even a story at the time that claimed after Andrew Bolt fell afoul of 18C with his series of factually inaccurate racially vilifying articles attacking Indigenous people, that Tony Abbott begged him to keep writing – and that’s what I can remember off the top of my head, I’m sure there are countless other things that deserve being mentioned in that list.
By his own rhetoric and actions he has demonstrated himself unfit for a such a role, but even more importantly – it is a role which shouldn’t exist in the first place.
If the PM wants to know about education and school attendance, we have Indigenous teachers, principals, academics and school program experts who can easily fill him in. If he wants to know about health, we have doctors and nurses, researchers and peak bodies in health who can tell him what he needs to know, and who have been lobbying in this space tirelessly for decades. Same goes for incarceration, housing, employment, environment and any other issues he should be interested in as PM.
Our last PM, was big on the phrase “We want to do things with Indigenous people instead of to them”, but he never embraced the philosophy behind those words. Even if he did though, it is still one step behind the true goal of self-determination.
We want to do things for ourselves, by ourselves. This will often require the support and goodwill of governments, but it needs to be Indigenous owned solutions if it is going to work long term.
Appointing Tony Abbott as a ‘special envoy’ is yet another step further away from that goal.