• Tony Abbott at the Warruwi school in the Northern Territory (Twitter)Source: Twitter
Tony Abbott’s first visit to remote communities as special envoy of Indigenous affairs has been met with fierce opposition.
28 Sep 2018 - 3:45 PM  UPDATED 1 Oct 2018 - 11:45 AM

In his first visit as special envoy of Indigenous affairs, Mr Abbott faced backlash in the Northern Territory community of Borroloola when he arrived to visit a local school.

Gadrian Hoosan, a Garrwa and Yanyuwa man who lives in Borroloola, said the community does not trust him and had made it clear to Mr Abbott he was not welcome.

“He’s the one that took all the funding … and supported the intervention,” he told CAAMA Radio on Thursday.

“We didn’t like him at all, we didn’t vote him in, we didn’t want him. We still don’t want him to be our spokesperson.”

Mr Housan said the school board were not informed about Mr Abbott’s visit.

“We didn’t even know,” he said.“I think he’s targeting our kids for some reason.”

Mr Abbott was heavily criticised for cutting millions of dollars from frontline Indigenous programs while prime minister, and received a scathing assessment of his educational vision.

“I’ve seen him and Warren Mundine talking on Sky News saying they want to teach kids in the community … international language and put our language and culture aside,” Mr Hoosan said.

Federal Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, a Yanyuwa woman from Borroloola, said she’s not surprised communities have responded negatively.

“For more than a year First Nations people have been calling for a voice to parliament,” she said.

“First Nations people don’t need Tony Abbott’s voice to parliament – they need their own.”

Northern Territory Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken Vowles labelled Mr Abbott’s trip as a 'photo opportunity'.

“If he did nothing as prime minister, as the self-declared prime minister for Indigenous Affairs, I fail to see how he will do anything as the Indigenous Affairs special envoy” he told NITV News.

“He hasn't delivered in the past and I can't see him making any difference now. It seems the people of Borroloola feel the same way.”

‘Adverse consequences’ for parents

Mr Abbott’s plan to address Indigenous school attendance and prioritise teaching English has been labelled misguided and outdated by education experts.  

While visiting schools in Warruwi, Galiwinku and Yirrkala, Mr Abbott said parents should face ‘adverse consequences’ for sending their kids to school.

“You would think that the first call on a parent is the welfare of the kids, the wellbeing of the kids. After feeding and clothing the kids, getting the kid to school is surely the most important thing," he told Sky News. 

Under a Labor Territory government, with support of the Commonwealth, truancy fines were introduced for parents whose children do not regularly attend school. 

But Northern Territory Education Minister Selena Uibo says this approach "simply lacks understanding and ignores the evidence around what works”.

She says any Commonwealth input into school attendance requires listening to a broad range of Aboriginal people.

“I hope Mr Abbott has seen firsthand the real impact our investment in early childhood education is having in engaging children in learning from an early age and uses this to inform his policy direction,” she told NITV News.

“I also hope Mr Abbott has seen the empowerment of communities through our local decision-making agenda.”

Both Mr Abbott and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion were approached for comment.

This article was updated to clarify that Mr Hoosan does not represent Borroloola as a Traditional Owner.

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