In 2008, Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman and ultimate opportunist, Tony Abbott, told The Age
“When we were in government we could decide whether an apology (to
the Stolen Generation) happened or not, but in opposition all we could
decide was an attitude to an apology which was ultimately in the hands
of others. My own view was if an apology was going to happen anyway why
not make the most of the situation and at the very least not rain on
It’s all about the look isn’t it Tony?
In 2011 Tony was interviewed by Chris Uhlman about the Northern Territory intervention.
“Well, I think that for too long there has not been the expectation
that Aboriginal kids would go to school or the expectation that
Aboriginal adults would take work. Now, we’ve got to break that
expectation and one of the very encouraging things is that we now have
senior, highly articulate Indigenous advocates, like Alison Anderson and
Bess Price, who are saying things have got to change, our people have
got to take responsibility, and at the heart of that is being normal
Australians, at least in that respect. Our kids go to school and our
adults go to work.”
And who better to advise the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs on how to “normalise” Aborigines than one of his favourite minority, “older, private school-educated, conservative white men”.
Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest, was given the task to
report on ways to improve training and education for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people. Forrest has no particular expertise in
this area apart from a compassionate interest and a personal record in
looking for innovative ways to promote Indigenous employment.
The Forrest Review
makes 27 recommendations, including that all welfare payments other
than age and veterans’ pensions, be paid into an account which can be
accessed with a new Healthy Welfare Card.
The card would only allow spending on goods and services deemed by
the government to support a healthy lifestyle and would block the
purchase of drugs, alcohol, or gambling.
The report also recommends financial penalties for parents whose children fall below a 90 per cent school attendance rate.
“I’m afraid over the last decade or so the truancy laws have effectively become a dead letter,” the prime minister said.
“I don’t say that welfare quarantining in these circumstances is
necessarily the only answer. But I am absolutely determined to have some
form of sanctions where the kids aren’t going to school.”
“There has to be consequences for sub-optimal behaviour.”
“If the states and territories aren’t prepared to do this or aren’t
prepared to do it in what I think is a reasonable time-frame – with
enough decisiveness – I will look at what we can do at a federal level
to make this a reality.”
Russell Marks commented in The Monthly
“Forrest’s report goes well beyond his brief, and advocates a return
to the paternalistic and punitive welfare models of centuries past for
not just Indigenous welfare recipients but hundreds of thousands of
others. There are echoes of the “poor laws” of British mercantilism in
his proposal to punish parents for their children’s non-attendance at
school. His proposal to extend “income management” – that attempt at
controlling how welfare recipients spend their money which has proven so
divisive among Aboriginal communities – harks back to the trust
accounts of past decades.
Like the Audit Commission’s report, Forrest’s report will be a bridge
too far for the government, which begs the question: why does it
persist in asking wealthy businessmen to report on matters outside their
Eva Cox was also critical of Forrest’s report.
“This step backwards fails to accept that recognising and respecting
the civilisations and contributions of Indigenous peoples is necessary
to unravel the damages of long-term cultural dominance, which strips
away communal strengths and well-being.
Nowhere does the report make any serious acknowledgement of systemic
exclusion of both Indigenous knowledge and cultural competencies. It
offers no recognition of the value of language diversity and the
maintenance of cultural identity.
Missing too from the report are the data that show the failure of
many of the proposed programs such as anti-truancy measures. Having
children at schools that do not meet their needs does not improve
Forrest dismisses oral cultures and languages, and all other learning
that cannot be applied in job seeking. He ignores the importance of
community and focuses on fixing individuals.”
In light of the very poor results in the recent Closing the Gap report, Tony’s comments on Australia Day 2012, the day the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra staged a 40th Anniversary celebration, sound even more out of touch.
“Look, I can understand why the tent embassy was established all
those years ago. I think a lot has changed for the better since then. We
had the historic apology just a few years ago, one of the genuine
achievements of Kevin Rudd as prime minister. We had the proposal which
is currently for national consideration to recognise indigenous people
in the Constitution. I think the indigenous people of Australia can be
very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian
and, yes, I think a lot has changed since then and I think it probably
is time to move on from that.”
And he wonders why they were offended.
The Closing the Gap report identified high levels of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people with undetected treatable and preventable
chronic conditions that impact significantly on life expectancy. The
nation has the ability to make relatively large health and life
expectancy gains in relatively short periods of time by focussing on
access to appropriate primary healthcare services to detect, treat and
manage these conditions.
They stress that good health is important to employment, education
and community safety. Further, the health sector is the biggest employer
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and increased
investment in health services will result in increased employment.
Evidence shows health services controlled by the Aboriginal community
are outperforming others in the detection and treatment of health
This is because they know that everything is connected. In health
services controlled by the Aboriginal community, doctors, nurses and
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers treat each person
in a holistic, culturally appropriate way. They spend longer with their
patients, know their history and know how to deal with the complex
issues they face daily – homelessness, food shortages and mental health
The report also expresses concern “that hard won Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander health gains could be negatively impacted by
proposed measures contained in the 2014–15 Budget.”
Over the next five years $534 million will be cut from Indigenous
programs administered by the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Health
More than $160 million of the cuts will come out of Indigenous health
programs. The health savings will be redirected to the Medical Research
Funding for Indigenous language support announced in the last budget will also be cut by $9.5 million over five years.
The Government failed to make any commitment to the National
Partnership Agreement for Indigenous Early Childhood Development which,
without extra funding, is likely to see 38 Indigenous childhood
development centres across the country close.
There will be changes to the National Partnership Agreements that
have controlled how the states and territories share spending in
specific areas in Indigenous affairs.
The agreement on remote service delivery will be replaced by a new
Remote Community Advancement Network and bilateral agreements with each
state and territory.
The Closing the Gap report specifically warns against devolving responsibility to the States.
“The Campaign Steering Committee emphasises the need to ensure that
potential changes in Commonwealth-State relations do not have the
unintended effect of undermining the Closing the Gap Strategy. While
recognising that all jurisdictions have a responsibility to contribute,
the Campaign Steering Committee firmly supports the Australian
Government’s continuing leadership role in an overall national
But the federal government thinks otherwise.
The Commonwealth has withdrawn responsibility for funding about 180 remote Aboriginal communities in WA in a move the State says could cost $10 billion over 20 years and threaten the health of vulnerable residents.
The latest Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report shows rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment increased by 57 per cent between 2000 and 2013.
“It is scandalous that while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples comprise less than 3 per cent of the Australian population, we
now account for almost 30 per cent of the prison population,” Mr Cubillo
The Abbott government has stripped funding from the peak Aboriginal
legal aid organisation and its state affiliates, but has moderated the
extent of cuts to services at the coalface following an outcry from the
The cuts to NATSILS and all law reform and policy officer positions
within each state and territory affiliate will save $9 million over
The budget did outline some new expenditure on Indigenous affairs – or perhaps a redirection of funding.
This includes a school truancy officer program in 74 schools at a
cost of $18 million; $54 million over four years to build seven new
police stations in remote communities; $2.5 million over four years to
employ Community Engagement Police Officers in the NT; $6.8 million in
2014–15 for non-government schools with more than 50 Indigenous boarding
students or where 50 per cent of boarding students are Indigenous
students from remote or very remote areas; and $26 million for
Indigenous teenage sexual health programs.
Far from self-determination, this government’s approach is to impose
sanctions for what they perceive to be “deviant” behaviour. The
ultimate nanny state will punish people into getting healthy, getting a
good education followed by a job, “even if it is picking up rubbish”.
We have plenty of money for more police and truancy officers, and
more gaols, but none for legal assistance, domestic violence programs,
culturally relevant education, or preventative health initiatives.
Worse still, we show little respect for the knowledge and abilities
of the original custodians of this land. Tony Abbott may think
Australian history began with the First Fleet. In so doing he ignores
the wisdom of the people who have the oldest continuous culture on the