Indigenous Australia

Tony Abbott’s disappointing three day week in Arnhem Land

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Tony Abbott’s week in an Indigenous community amounted to a mere three and a half days and was a thorough disappointment to the Indigenous community, writes proud member of the Kamilaroi people, Natalie Cromb.

He lasted three and a half days.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s version of honouring a promise was a token visit to a remote Indigenous community where, rather than discuss pertinent cultural issues, he posed for photos, acted as a truant officer and arranged the deployment of troops.

Three and a half days!

It took the self-declared Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs over a year to visit the Yolngu people in north-east Arnhem Land, despite promising, prior to being elected, he would spend his first week as Prime Minister with them.

The commitment of a week turned into little over three days after he decided it was more important for him to farewell troops he has deployed to Iraq (without the consensus of parliament let alone the consensus of the Australian public).

Even as he left, Abbott was promising to return as he spoke with reporters at the Gunyangara community:

"It is very important that I keep faith with the people of East Arnhem Land and I certainly am determined to ensure no one feels short-changed," the Prime Minister told reporters during a visit to the Gunyangara community.”

But he has since, as a result of timely police raids on alleged terrorists in Sydney and Brisbane, indicated that he couldn’t promise to return, blaming the climate of terror in Australia.

Tony Abbott’s visit to Arnhem land has been a long time coming but when it finally arrived it was much ado about nothing. He did not get to the crux of issues affecting Indigenous people and he did not conduct an assessment of the reasons behind the many social issues affecting these communities.

Although he arrived on Monday apparently excited and hopeful for the week ahead and the Australian reported his presence as a ‘promise fulfilled’. He has failed on both counts.

It has taken him over a year to fulfil a promise he committed to carry out this time last year and what does he do while afforded a unique opportunity to engage with the Indigenous people and learn about the culture and concerns of the people?

He plays truant officer and postures about the place with that ever present smug grin, creating a circus of media content to continue to propagate stereotypes of Aboriginal parents being bad parents that don’t send their kids to school and need the Prime Minister to come and make them go.

He continued this gung-ho approach to “getting the kids to school” throughout his visit.

When asked about the forced removals of children occurring in many Indigenous communities, some of which where police attended, forcibly removing children in full riot attire, Mr Abbott stated:

“I think it’s perfectly appropriate to try to get the kids to school ….

“Now, I’m not here to give advice to the NSW Government or NSW Police but certainly the discussions I’ve had with all the premiers and chief ministers on this subject are we need to try much, much harder, we need to consider new measures to try to ensure that kids go to school.”

What about talking to the Indigenous community leaders? Does he presume that the chief ministers and premiers know what is best for the Indigenous children, as the Protector of Aborigines did?

In 1937, the Chief Protectors of Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, in favour of assimilating Indigenous people into non-Indigenous society, said [IA emphasis]:

‘..this conference believes that the destiny of the natives of Aboriginal origin, but not the full bloods, lies in their ultimate absorption by the people of the Commonwealth, and it therefore recommends that all efforts be directed to that end.’

Doesn’t this sound a little too close to the current truth gripping Indigenous communities?

The practices of the Abbott Government amount to a continuation of previous policies, which amount to a new (or continued) stolen generation.

The failure of the Government to consult with communities is a continuation of the policies which have brutalised the Indigenous culture and a patronising token visit to a remote Indigenous community is a flagrant attempt to distract from the abysmal report card on his supposed Indigenous Affairs portfolio.

The so-called Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs has initiated policies that widen the gap, disempower Indigenous Australians and illustrate contempt for communities seeking to retain any sense of their cultural practices.

Mr Abbott, notwithstanding his bromance with Warren Mundine, who is widely discredited by his own people, is clearly continuing with his agenda of assimilation by making decisions for and on behalf of Indigenous people without any community consultation (Warren Mundine does not count as community consultation) nor conciliation.

If Tony Abbott was truly committed to being the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, this visit should have occurred a year ago, or at the very least, before he committed to a budget cutting $600 million to Indigenous Affairs in order to push the key policy point of

‘… individual Indigenous wealth accumulation.’

Further, he ought to have met with more than one Indigenous community.

Not to take anything away from the wonderful Yolngu community, who have a tremendous amount to teach politicians like Mr Abbott if only he would listen, but there are over 400 different communities of people with different customs, practices and with differing societal issues.

The purpose of this visit is a little confusing ‒ notwithstanding the obvious attempt to tick a box of promise being fulfilled ‒ considering he has already made policy and budgetary decisions without regard to the Indigenous perspective.

Clearly, he is not looking to address any concerns of the Indigenous people.

So that leaves, what, learning? Actions speak louder than words and, thus far, his actions have, at best, screamed patriarchal condescension but, perhaps, more accurately, disdain towards those not in the pursuit of economic accumulation.

We’ll see.

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