Former prime minister Tony Abbott was greeted with a traditional welcome by the Anangu people when he arrived in Pukatja, one of South Australia’s most remote Aboriginal communities.
It was the last stop on a three-day visit to the state as part of his new role as special envoy for Indigenous affairs.
He shook hands, stopped by classroom and spoke with students then made a tactless remark.
“Thank you for putting up with the invasion,” he said.
His appointment to the position has been highly controversial with many Indigenous leaders expressing criticism about the choice and the lack of consultation.
In Pukatja, Mr Abbott reiterated his belief that Indigenous students must be educated in English.
“I certainly got the impression that the Elders here are very keen to see their children attend school,” he told NITV.
“But obviously it’s important that when they’re at school they get a good education not just in their local culture, the Anangu culture, but also in English.
“In the end, when you come out of school, you’ve got to be able to read and write in English and I think that’s the big challenge. That’s what I’ll be making recommendations to the government about in the next few weeks.”
As PM, Mr Abbott was criticised for saying that taxpayers should not have to fund the “lifestyle choices” of people living the remote communities.
During his recent trip he revealed that he is considering stationing police in high schools.
He has also conceded there have been mixed opinions about his appointment but says the response from remote communities has been good.
“Obviously I’m a member of parliament,” he said.
“At times I’ve been a contentious one and I guess there’ll be lots of things I’ve said over the years that people would disagree with.”
“But I really do think that when it comes to remote Australia people are always happy to be able to bend the ear of someone from Canberra.”