Ab­bott’s tour of him­self

The Saturday Paper - - Letters & Editorial -

Amid the chaos that was par­lia­ment’s fi­nal sit­ting day for the year, Tony Ab­bott got to his feet and cleared his throat.

“Back when prime minister,” he said, in­tro­duc­ing him­self with a de­scrip­tor as un­nec­es­sary as it was telling of what was to come, “I used to ob­serve that to live in Aus­tralia is to have won the lot­tery of life – and that’s true, un­less you hap­pen to be one of those whose an­ces­tors have been here for tens of thou­sands of years.”

Over the next 20 min­utes, tabling to a near-empty cham­ber the find­ings of his six-month so­journ as Indige­nous en­voy, the for­mer prime minister con­tin­ued down his cu­ri­ous path of op­ti­mism and con­de­scen­sion. He spoke of the “Aus­tralian para­dox”, of how “vast num­bers of peo­ple from all around the world would lit­er­ally risk death to be here, yet the First Aus­tralians of­ten live in the con­di­tions that peo­ple come to Aus­tralia to es­cape.

“We are the very best of coun­tries, ex­cept for the peo­ple who were here first.”

None of the in­sights Ab­bott brought back from his “most re­cent swing through re­mote schools” are new. These fig­ures of dis­ad­van­tage are long known. And, for the most part, his rec­om­men­da­tions co-opt ideas that First Nations Aus­tralians have been putting to un­re­cep­tive gov­ern­ments for decades – higher pay for teach­ers in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, more as­sis­tance for high-achiev­ing stu­dents hop­ing to at­tend univer­sity.

That Ab­bott be­lieves these to be his rev­e­la­tions alone shows he has not been lis­ten­ing. He is will­ing to con­tort the de­sires of com­mu­nity to suit his own ide­o­log­i­cal agenda – in the same breath con­demn­ing the jail­ing of peo­ple over pal­try fines for school nonat­ten­dance and suggest­ing fines should be de­ducted in­stead from wel­fare pay­ments.

Ab­bott has taken his spe­cial en­voy role and used it as an op­por­tu­nity to vin­di­cate his failed ten­ure of lead­er­ship. “It was grat­i­fy­ing to see that the Opal fuel, which I in­tro­duced as health minister, has all but elim­i­nated petrol-sniff­ing in re­mote Aus­tralia,” he said. “The larger com­mu­ni­ties of the APY Lands, with just one ex­cep­tion, now have what they all lacked a decade ago,” he con­tin­ued, “the per­ma­nent po­lice pres­ence that I tried to achieve as the rel­e­vant fed­eral minister.”

This re­port is only fur­ther ev­i­dence Ab­bott sees his re­la­tion­ship with Indige­nous Aus­tralia solely as a means to fur­ther his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. It makes no men­tion of the Uluru State­ment from the Heart, no men­tion of a First Nations Voice to Par­lia­ment. In­stead, this has all just been a brand­ing ex­er­cise for the self-pro­claimed “prime minister for Indige­nous af­fairs”.

But the prospect of be­ing able to ef­fect mean­ing­ful change in peo­ple’s lives has never been the game of pol­i­tics for Ab­bott. This is a man who is jostling for a seat on a front­bench the polls in­di­cate will likely find it­self a shadow cab­i­net within six months. Rather than fight­ing for some­thing he be­lieves in, he’ll scrap for a ti­tle un­til

• the bit­ter end.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.