• PM Scott Morrison has moved quickly to announce his new frontbench, including a new role for Tony Abbott if he accepts. (AAP)Source: AAP
Newly sworn in Prime Minister Scott Morrison's first move on Indigenous affairs has been to offer a new special envoy role to Tony Abbott.
27 Aug 2018 - 4:33 PM  UPDATED 27 Aug 2018 - 4:33 PM

After last week's historic double spill and leadership coup, Scott Morrison is setting up office as Australia's 30th prime minister.

In selecting his cabinet, the former Treasurer has chosen to keep Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion in his post, as well as Ken Wyatt in his Indigenous health portfolio.

Mr Morrison was also Mr Wyatt's favoured candidate ahead of last week's second spill. He is the Liberal party's only Indigenous member.

And - controversially - the PM has offered what would be a newly created position of special envoy on Indigenous Affairs to former prime minister Tony Abbott.

As Mr Abbott contemplates whether he wants to be a special envoy, others are reading into the gesture and the PM's record on Indigenous issues to try and determine what kind of leader he will be.

Abbott's 'offensive track record' 

While Mr Abbott saw himself as a key figure on Indigenous affairs, even appointing himself Indigenous affairs minister while PM, his actions in government have been strongly criticised.

WA Labor Senator Patrick Dodson said Mr Abbott is not the 'envoy' Indigenous Australians need.

"Labor is seriously concerned about appointing the ex-self-appointed ‘Prime Minister for Indigenous affairs’ to the role of ‘envoy,’ given his ignorant, hopeless and frankly offensive track record on Indigenous issues," he said in a statement.

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"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."

During his leadership, he cut more than $500 million from Indigenous programs administered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

He's also built up a long record of insensitive comments toward First Australians.

Commenting on the plight of First Nations people in Western Australia facing community closures, Mr Abbott referred to Aboriginal people living in remote communities as a 'lifestyle choice'.

Just last year, he said the arrival of the First Fleet was 'a good thing' for Indigenous Australians and was accused of effectively declaring Australia 'terra nullius' before British settlement, after remarking that Sydney was 'nothing but bush' prior to white arrival.

Morrison's maiden speech 

Some of the prime minister's clearest comments about how he views Indigenous Australia were delivered in his February 14 2008 maiden speech. It was the day after the national apology to the stolen generations.

His first words in the chamber acknowledged the Gweagal people of the Dharawal nation, the Traditional Owners of the land now occupied by his parliamentary seat of Cook.

In that speech, he said "a strong country is at peace with its past".

"I do not share the armband view of history, black or otherwise. I like my history in high-definition, widescreen, full, vibrant colour," he said.

"There is no doubt that our Indigenous population has been devastated by the inevitable clash of cultures that came with the arrival of the modern world in 1770 at Kurnell in my electorate. This situation is not the result of any one act but of more than 200 years of shared ignorance, failed policies and failed communities. And we are not alone: our experience is shared by every other modern nation that began this way. There is much for us all to be sorry for. Sadly, those who will be most sorry are the children growing up in Indigenous communities today, whose life chances are significantly less than the rest of us.

We can choose to sit in judgement on previous generations, thinking we would have done it differently. But would we? Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Nor can we compare the world we live in today with the world that framed the policies of previous generations. So let us not judge.

Rather, having apologised for our past—as I was proud to do in this place yesterday—let us foster a reconciliation where true forgiveness can emerge and we work together to remove the disadvantage of our Indigenous communities, not out of a sense of guilt or recompense for past failures but because it is the humane and right thing to do.

Having said this, we cannot allow a national obsession with our past failures to overwhelm our national appetite for celebrating our modern stories of nationhood. We must celebrate our achievements and acknowledge our failures at least in equal measure. We should never feel the need to deny our past to embrace our future."

NT Intervention

While Mr Morrison was elected to parliament after the federal government's emergency response in the NT - also known as the NT intervention - the PM had the opportunity to vote on subsequent amendments.

Speaking in March 2008 on one amendment, which removed some pornography restrictions in Aboriginal communities that were initially imposed, Mr Morrison expressed full backing for the policy his party had introduced.

"The Australian community reached the point where there was universal recognition that previous efforts had failed, that it was time to take a new approach to provide an emergency response," he said. 

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That policy was continued under Labor, but was subsequently condemned by author of the report which sparked the emergency response 'Little Children are Sacred'.

"I think that Canberra seized upon it for political reasons and that precipitated the invasion of the Northern Territory, it was a poor response, the wrong response," Rex Wild QC told NITV News last year.

Mr Scullion has been Indigenous affairs minister since 2013, presiding over the continued intervention in its current 'Stronger Futures' form.

Native Title

Last year, Mr Morrison voted to amend the Native Title Act to confirm the legal status and enforceability of Indigenous land use agreements without the signature of all applicants.

It came after a federal court ruling in the McGlade native title case found that an Indigenous land use agreement was invalid because not all named representatives had signed it.

The bill, which passed through parliament, resolves the uncertainty created by the McGlade decision and secured more than 100 mining projects under land use agreements that were subject to renegotiations.

Traditional owner groups argued rushing the bill through without proper consultation with Indigenous communities would weaken their rights and only suit mining companies.

At the time, senior spokesman for the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners, Adrian Burragubba, said the amendments have been rushed through parliament to meet the demands of mining interests.

"The federal government moved to amend the Native Title Act as if there was a state of emergency, but without any evidence of a real problem or justification for the rush," he said.

"The Bill appears to be rammed through to the calls of the mining lobby, and in particular Adani and its resource council backers."

18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

At the height of the debate around watering down the protections in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, Mr Morrison gave his opinion on what kind of cases he considers significant enough to warrant the attention of the human rights commission.

In apparent references to Aboriginal woman Cindy Prior's complaint against Queensland University of Technology students, and Bill Leak's cartoon response to reports of abuse at the Don Dale youth detention centre, Mr Morrison told ABC in March 2017 the issue was complicated.

"Well, we believe that you need to strengthen the act to ensure that people can't be harassed and that the protections around intimidation remain but the whole point is you can't have cartoonists and you can’t have students who are the subject of what is basically an excess of political correctness being dragged into courts by the Human Rights Commission," he said.

Celebrating Cook

In his maiden speech, Mr Morrison also paid tribute to his electorate's namesake.

"James Cook was a man before his time. He embodied the true spirit of the Enlightenment age," Mr Morrison said.

"Against a backdrop of brutality and ignorance, he displayed an amazing empathy and respect for his own crew and the people and lands he visited. He should be revered as one of the most significant figures in our national history."

In this year's federal budget, Mr Morrison allocated $48.7 million to go towards commemorating the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook's arrival in 2020, with $3 million for a statue of Captain Cook.

While La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council Chairperson Noeleen Timbery gave cautious support for the project, others Aboriginal community members found it an upsetting proposal.

Other changes to cabinet

The PM's 23-member cabinet and wider ministry will be sworn in on Tuesday after Mr Morrison tours drought-stricken western Queensland.  

Deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg step up as Treasurer, while his former role as environment and energy minister has been split between Angus Taylor and Melissa Price.

Peter Dutton remains as Home Affairs Minister but loses his immigration role to Sydney MP David Coleman.

Alan Tudge will take on population and infrastructure and Marise Payne will take over from Julie Bishop as Foreign Affairs Minister.

Former deputy Julie Bishop announced her resignation from the frontbench, saying she will not run at the next election. 

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