Why is Abbott the best special envoy for indigenous affairs?

Why is Abbott the best special envoy for indigenous affairs?

While nobody doubts Tony Abbott's sincerity when it comes to indigenous affairs - he has been visiting remote communities every year since 2008 - that doesn't automatically make him the special envoy our first peoples need or want.


And, given we already have an indigenous affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, who is allegedly on top of his brief an obvious question is "why do we need a special envoy at all?"

The short answer to that question is that given neither Scullion, nor any of his predessors, including Abbott, have ever even begun to make a dent in the national disgrace that is entrenched indigenous disadvantage, any minister obviously needs all the help they can get.

But how are we going to make the situation better by appointing yet another well-meaning, hyper-educated and politically-astute middle-aged white male to tell the indigenous community what is in their best interests?


As a group, that demographic's track record in this space has been far from good.

The Abbott/Turnbull Government asked the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community what they wanted ahead of the 2017 National Constitutional Convention.

The result was "The Uluru Statement from the Heart" last May.

This was a carefully considered call for a representative body, capable of speaking on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution.

"Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people," their statement said. "Our children are alienated from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. Our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future."

The delegates hoped a legislated voice in the parliament, coupled with a genuine commitment towards the negotiation of a treaty that would recognise indigenous rights, might lay the groundwork for a road forward.

That was not to be. Turnbull took one look at what was proposed and scrapped it, saying if such a proposition was ever put to a referendum it would almost certainly fail.

Abbott sided with the former Prime Minister for once. He facebooked that recognition should "come in a way that brings us all together and this proposal, for a further level of indigenous representation, was unlikely to achieve that".

This is one of the reasons so many indigenous community leaders are supremely underwhelmed by his belated acceptance of the role of "special envoy" on Wednesday.

Patrick Dodson spoke for thousands when he tweeted: "The suggestion that Tony Abbott could act as some kind of messenger or representative for First Nations people is condescending and a serious worry for First Nations people".

Given no details have been made available on what Mr Abbott would do, how he would interact with Mr Scullion or even whether or not he will be entitled to extra pay, this looks like an ad hoc appointment which is much more about tying down a loose cannon than improving the lot of Australia's most disadvantaged group.

If this is the case then it can only be described as more of the same cynacle politics we saw on clear display during the Liberal leadership spill. When we ask Indigenous Australians what they want, we owe it to them to listen when they answer.

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