It Seems No One Wants Tony Abbott To Be Special Envoy For Indigenous Affairs?

Well, okay, one person wanted former prime minister Tony Abbott to be the special envoy for indigenous affairs: current PM Scott Morrison.

Tony Abbott

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Well, okay, one person wanted former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to be the special envoy for Indigenous affairs: current PM Scott Morrison. And since he announced Abbott in that role back in August (and he begrudgingly accepted) Indigenous advocates have been unanimous in their public reaction. They don’t know why he’s there, and they’re wary about whether he will actually contribute.

Ahead of the first meeting between PM Morrison and his Indigenous advisory council on Thursday — which Abbott has said he is unable to make — it’s worth having a look at what Indigenous leaders think about the role.

What Has He Been Up To?

Abbott made his first visit to the Northern Territory as special envoy for Indigenous affairs this week, where he visited schools and small Indigenous communities to hear about issues affecting them.

His focus was on education.

“Structure, discipline, repetition and I guess that sense of mastery that comes when you actually start to get things right, that’s really, really important in these schools,” Abbott told 2GB radio this week.

“It’s absolutely critical that every kid goes to school every day if our children to have a decent future,” Abbott said additionally on Twitter.

On Wednesday, Abbott was booted from the Borroloola community after coming across as “arrogant”.

“He didn’t want to listen to us,” Gadrian Hoosan, a parent and school council member, told Guardian Australia. “He wanted to get up and walk away. He didn’t want to answer our questions.”

And while he has said he is unable to make it to the first meeting between the Prime Minister and his Indigenous advisory council, he has promised to find the time to meet with them elsewhere.

What Are Indigenous Leaders Saying?

Since Abbott took up the special envoy gig a couple of months ago, the reaction from top Indigenous Australian leaders has been almost unanimously critical.

Here’s what they’ve been saying.

Ken Vowles, Northern Territory Aboriginal Affairs Minister

“[Mr Abbott] hasn’t bothered to meet with me as Aboriginal Affairs Minister and I’m pretty offended and disgusted by that,” Vowles said this week as Abbott made his first visit to the territory as special envoy. “It’s about keeping him busy, give him some extra coin, give him a special title.”

Andrea Mason, Co-Chair Of The Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council

“I’m sure that Mr Abbott would say he’s not an expert in education, we do have experts in indigenous education and we do want those voices elevated,” Mason said when asked whether Abbott would make a positive impact on indigenous education.

Jackie Huggins, Co-Chair Of The National Congress Of Australia’s First Peoples

“Tony Abbott has a track record in terms of denying Aboriginal people their rights to social justice, but also to self-determination,” Huggins told the ABC. “There’s almost that notion of chief protector has come back to re-visit us. We’re all very dismayed at the outcome.”

Rod Little, The Other Co-Chair Of The National Congress Of Australia’s First Peoples

“There wasn’t enough conversations with communities on the ground to listen to their needs and work solutions and work with them,” he told ABC radio in August. “We certainly don’t have faith or hope that this envoy and this role will make the slightest bit of difference.”

Jack Latimore, Guardian Australia Writer And Indigenous Researcher

“In 2015, again as PM, Abbott advocated for the forced closure of around 150 remote Indigenous communities in the state of Western Australia, remarking that taxpayers should not ‘subsidise lifestyle choices’,” Latimore wrote in Guardian Australia, “Abbott is wrong for the job, but his boss, Morrison, is himself too paternalistic to bother much about it. In both men, there is a hulking paternal arrogance.”

Roy Ah See, Chair Of The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council

“It is a surprising development, given backbencher Mr Abbott has commented this week that the portfolio of Indigenous affairs requires prime ministerial authority to get things done,” he said in a statement. “We asked for a voice to the parliament so the parliament could hear directly from us, and instead we got a non-Aboriginal envoy to interpret our needs and the solutions we bring.”

Pat Dodson, Shadow Assistant Indigenous Affairs Spokesperson

“He has attitudes that are archaic in terms of First Nations peoples’ cultures, particularly in remote communities,” Dodson said, “describing them as life choices.”

We’ll have to wait and see what the PM’s Indigenous advisory council formally says about the role on Thursday.