There are fears Tony Abbott’s focus on getting Aboriginal kids to school is misguided and outdated as the former prime minister begins his new role as special envoy to Indigenous Affairs.
Some of the country’s leading Aboriginal educators say Mr Abbott’s calls to concentrate on school attendance to improve educational outcomes is a step back in time.
“He’s already talking about a new idea around school attendance which is actually quite outdated and it’s not well supported at all by the evidence in the field of improved educational outcomes,” said Darren Godwell from the Stronger Smarter Institute.
“The research tells us number one and the number two factors to improve educational outcomes are actually the capability of the teacher and student engagement,” he told NITV News.
“None of the research shows that attendance is a driver of educational outcomes.”
Mr Godwell hopes Mr Abbott engages with educators to gain an understanding of the work being done in schools and classrooms across the country.
“We’ve moved so far along in time now we’re kind of over the days where you’re going to run experiments or little fringe projects to the left or to the right in this portfolio," he said.
"The research base is there, we know what works.
“At the moment we have 220,000 Indigenous students at school and in those schools and in those classrooms they need the best capable and the best qualified teachers we can provide them, so that’s where our focus should be."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered the position of special envoy to Indigenous Affairs to Mr Abbott after he was left out of the new cabinet.
Despite widespread backlash from Indigenous leaders and groups, Mr Morrison said the former prime minister was the right person for the role.
“I have known Tony Abbott a very long time,” he said on Wednesday.
“I know how passionate Tony Abbott is about changing generationally the life circumstances for Indigenous Australians. One of my areas of passion has been the Clontarf Foundation. That is all about getting Indigenous boys into school and having them have a different path in life.
"When you focus on the outcomes, which I know is what Tony is doing, that makes him the right person."
‘Appointed for all the wrong reasons’
Labor MP Linda Burney is strongly critical of Mr Abbott's record on Indigenous affairs.
“Let’s be clear about why this appointment has taken place. It’s not taken place because Tony Abbott is passionate about Aboriginal affairs,” she told the ABC on Wednesday.
“It’s taken place along with the envoy offer to Barnaby Joyce on drought, to appease two of the wreckers in last week’s leadership spill.”
“Tony Abbott I think has been appointed for all the wrong reasons.”
Ms Burney said Australians cannot forget the budget cuts Mr Abbott made to Indigenous affairs as prime minister - amounting to half a billion dollars.
“He brought paternalism back front and centre, to Aboriginal affairs policy and on top of that, he had a schools program that was supposed bring children back into the schools system to participate, costing $80 million that has been an abject failure. That’s the legacy.”
Dr Jackie Huggins, co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said the appointment of Mr Abbott has hit many ‘like a sledgehammer’.
“This man, who has a history of paternalism and punishment for our people, could now be part of special envoy for this government,” she told NITV News.
“I guess that goes to show how little the current prime minister knows about our issues.”
Dr Huggins said the newly created special envoy position is not needed.
“Even Tony Abbott admitted this is a busy space,” she said.
“There are lots of people doing lots of work in our areas. We have the Redfern Statement Alliance that we’ve had for two years now in terms of working out what are the best solutions for our people."
She said Mr Abbott needs to be informed before he begins consultations with Indigenous groups.
“There are a lot of questions and there are a lot of issues that Tony Abbott needs to get his head around before he comes to talk to us.”