Indigenous leaders slam Tony Abbott’s 'condescending' new envoy role


Several Indigenous voices have slammed the appointment of Tony Abbott as an Indigenous affairs envoy.

A chorus of Indigenous individuals and groups has come out against the appointment of former prime minister Tony Abbott to the newly-created position of "special envoy on Indigenous affairs".

Mr Abbott was given the role after being excluded from Prime Minister Scott Morrison's ministry, in an effort to heal the wounds of last week's damaging leadership coup. 

He cautiously accepted the job on Wednesday after hesitating at first.

"What I expect to be asked to do is to make recommendations on how we can improve remote area education, in particular, how we can improve attendance rates and school performance," Mr Abbott told The Daily Telegraph.

But predictably, words were particularly harsh from the other side of the aisle, with Labor's Linda Burney and Pat Dodson coming out swinging.

Labor Member for Barton Linda Burney.
Labor Member for Barton Linda Burney.

"The prime minister has an Indigenous Advisory Council, an Indigenous Affairs Minister, an Indigenous person - Ken Wyatt - in his cabinet and there are three other First Nations people within the Parliament ... The last thing Indigenous affairs needs is Tony Abbott blundering around in that space," Federal Labor MP Ms Burney told SBS News.

She said his role in the Indigenous affairs space when he was prime minister was "disastrous", specifically how he "cut $500 million out of the Indigenous affairs budget".

"I think this has nothing to do with Indigenous affairs, this is an olive branch by Scott Morrison to one of the detractors within his caucus ... to try and sort out the ongoing war within the Liberal party."

Labor Senator Pat Dodson in February.
Labor Senator Pat Dodson in February.

Senator Dodson told SBS News the appointment was "condescending to the overwhelming number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who support the calls for a 'voice to Parliament' and a Makarrata Commission to oversee truth-telling and agreement-making, both of which Mr Abbott has not supported".

"First Nations people have clearly asked the government for a 'voice to Parliament' - and after consistently rejecting those calls, the new Prime Minister Scott Morrison has given them Tony Abbott," he said.

"It is a great shame that the government has once again demonstrated their unwillingness to listen to First Nations people."

While Ron Liddle, co-chair of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, echoed concerns around Mr Abbott's record.

Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott.
Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott.

Work to improve education, employment, health and other outcomes for first Australians did not involve nearly enough consultation during his time in the top job, Mr Liddle said.

"There wasn't enough conversations with communities on the ground to listen to their needs and work out solutions and work with them," he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

"We certainly don't have any faith or hope in that this envoy and this role will make the slightest bit of difference."

Sarah Maddison, co-director of the Indigenous Settler Relations Collaboration at the University of Melbourne told SBS News changes to funding arrangements to Indigenous organisations under the Abbott government were "devastating".

"[He] really wiped out the last semblance of the self-determination era in terms of Aboriginal community organisations actually being able to run their own affairs and manage service delivery in their communities," she said. 

Ms Maddison said since Mr Morrison announced the appointment, "the level of anger and hurt and confusion and dismay that I've heard from Aboriginal people is overwhelming".

Additional reporting: AAP

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