While mainstream media is taking a breath after the recent Liberal leadership drama in Canberra, and many Australians are shaking their heads in disbelief, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are bracing for what is to come.
As far back as 2014 I predicted Scott Morrison would eventually be in the Prime Minister’s chair. His extreme conservatism was, even then, aligned to the brewing return of draconian politics, not only within Australia, but many Western nations.
Now is not the time to be saying ‘give him a go’ or to flippantly say that it won’t be long until the election and this change of leadership will help the opposition.
If we are to get through this growing storm of inequity and bigotry, we need to knock misguided optimism on the head. Now is not the time to be saying ‘give him a go’ or to flippantly say that it won’t be long until the election and this change of leadership will help the opposition.
Now is the time to be actively conscious of the hardship that some, like asylum seekers and First Peoples, are facing.
With the dust of the spill still settling, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister Nigel Scullion may not be the only ones determining policies within Indigenous Affairs. If Tony Abbott accepts Morrison’s offer of special envoy for Indigenous Affairs, an unholy trinity will be unleashed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Leading them will be Scott Morrison, the 30th Prime Minister of Australia. I suspect he will be particularly harsh on marginalised Australians, such as First Peoples. Perhaps harsher than any prime minister since Menzies.
There is not much on the public record, as yet, about Morrison’s policy views on Indigenous Affairs. It is known he’s not in favour of increasing Aboriginal land rights, and he was a harsh social services minister.
Sitting around a board-table with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experts in essential services, he stated that many Aboriginal communities were ‘basket cases’.
I recall attending a meeting in May 2015 in which Scott Morrison, then Minister for Social Services, was an invited guest. Sitting around a board-table with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experts in essential services, he stated that many Aboriginal communities were ‘basket cases’.
At that meeting, Morrison was asked for comment about the alarming number of Aboriginal family centres that had recently been defunded or closed through introduction of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. His response was that these services needed a ‘good clean out’ due to ‘rorting’. There is no evidence to back such an opinion. Instead, evaluations of community-controlled services have demonstrated they achieve good outcomes.
In comparison, the Coalition’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy has continuously been criticised in independent reviews and by grassroots organisations and experts. Under a Morrison-led Coalition, I expect even less funding will make its way to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and services, with more going to non-Indigenous organisations that are lacking in expertise.
Senator Nigel Scullion has been the Minister for Indigenous Affairs since 2013. He has been criticised for his handling of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, his failure to act in a timely manner over the child abuse at Don Dale youth detention centre, his inappropriate claims about deaths in custody, an outlandish statement about vegemite moonshine, his attempts to censure the Indigenous Land Corporation and other actions that demonstrate he lacks the skills for the portfolio.
And rounding off the unholy trinity is Abbott. Morrison has offered to create a position of special envoy for Indigenous Affairs for Tony Abbott. Abbott is still considering this offer. With his past record, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be hoping he says no.
Just because Abbott has constantly declared his ‘passion’ for Indigenous Affairs, does not mean it’s an area he in which should be working. Even before he declared himself a Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Abbott failed to demonstrate suitable capabilities for this role.
He has not demonstrated cultural competency or proper respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures.
Abbott publicly whitewashes Australian history and habitually erases First Peoples in speeches. He has not demonstrated cultural competency or proper respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures.
The Council Of Australian Government’s Closing the Gap strategies continued to under-perform when Abbott was Prime Minister. He stated that First Peoples living on their ancestral country was a ‘lifestyle choice’ and they do not deserve access to the same essential services, infrastructure and health care that other Australians enjoy.
In the coming days, possibly longer if Abbott accepts the position of special envoy, people will be recollecting the abysmal failures that Abbott made in his previous role. While others will be predicting the failures to come with Morrison, Scullion and Abbott’s leadership of Indigenous affairs.
As we get closer to the federal election, the Coalition government, under the leadership of Scott Morrison, is a ‘watch this space’ proposition. For some, there is a mix of dread for the future and a recollection of last century draconian policies that caused generational disadvantages for First Peoples.
Despite the evidence and umpteen opportunities to move towards a fairer nation that owns up to its dark colonial history… here we are again.
Karen Wyld is a consultant, author and freelance writer of Martu heritage, living in South Australia. She has a background in social research, training, community development, social housing and Aboriginal community-controlled health.