Ab­bott to spend week in Abo­rig­i­nal ar­eas

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST -

Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott on Sun­day kicked off a one­week stay with in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in the coun­try’s north as he sought to boost de­vel­op­ment and jobs in the sparsely pop­u­lated re­gion.

Ab­bott vowed to be the “prime min­is­ter for Abo­rig­i­nal af­fairs” be­fore he was elected to power in Septem­ber 2013, and said he would spend one week ev­ery year rul­ing the na­tion from a re­mote in­dige­nous com­mu­nity.

He will head to Thurs­day Is­land — which has a pop­u­la­tion of just over 2,600 — in the Tor­res Strait off Aus­tralia’s north­east­ern tip be­fore spend­ing time on the main­land at nearby Cape York later in the week.

The Aus­tralian leader said he hoped the stint would help him “to be­come as prac­ti­cally fa­mil­iar with the real is­sues in in­dige­nous Aus­tralia as pos­si­ble.”

“To spend ... just one week in 52, fo­cused on in­dige­nous is­sues is not too much,” Ab­bott told re­port- ers from the far north­west­ern town of Ku­nunurra be­fore head­ing to the Tor­res Strait.

“It re­ally isn’t too much, given that that sec­tion of our pop­u­la­tion have to a con­sid­er­able ex­tent been ne­glected for the last cou­ple of hun­dred years.

“So, there’s a sense in which Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple are fi­nally get­ting the at­ten­tion they de­serve and that’s cer­tainly go­ing to be the full fo­cus — my full fo­cus and the gov­ern­ment’s full fo­cus — over the next week or so.”

Abo­rig­ines are be­lieved to have num­bered around one mil­lion at the time of Bri­tish set­tle­ment in 1788, but there are now just 470,000 out of a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of 23 mil­lion.

They are the na­tion’s most dis­ad­van­taged cit­i­zens and have a much shorter life ex­pectancy than other Aus­tralians while suf­fer­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate lev­els of im­pris­on­ment and so­cial prob­lems such as un­em­ploy­ment.

Ab­bott’s gov­ern­ment in June un­veiled an am­bi­tious plan to de­velop north­ern Aus­tralia — a vast area span­ning more than three mil­lion square kilo­me­ters (1.16 mil­lion square miles) with a pop­u­la­tion of over one mil­lion peo­ple and which in­cludes the Great Bar­rier Reef.

The white pa­per set out a de­vel­op­ment plan to 2035, with AU$1.2 bil­lion (US$880 mil­lion) of ini­tial in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture projects, land re­forms and cut­ting red tape.

“We all know that re­mote Aus­tralia — prin­ci­pally re­mote in­dige­nous Aus­tralia — has em­ploy­ment is­sues, has health is­sues, has ed­u­ca­tion is­sues, has com­mu­nity safety is­sues, but there’s also so much po­ten­tial,” Ab­bott added.

Among the is­sues set to be raised by Thurs­day Is­lan­ders are the high cost of liv­ing in the Tor­res Strait, fish­ing rights and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, the Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion re­ported.

Ab­bott is ex­pected to be joined by sev­eral min­is­ters dur­ing the trip, in­clud­ing In­dige­nous Min­is­ter Nigel Scul­lion, Health Min­is­ter Sus­san Ley and So­cial Ser­vices Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son.

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