POLITICS

Is Tony Abbott Actually Right For The Job Of Indigenous Affairs?

Leaving aside the politics, he has the experience and passion -- but also the missteps.

01/11/2016 3:04 PM AEDT | Updated 01/11/2016 5:10 PM AEDT
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CANBERRA -- Tony Abbott wants a seat back at the big table and is offering a truce with his usurper Malcolm Turnbull.

The price, according to Abbott's long-time friend Catherine McGregor, is the portfolio of Indigenous Affairs -- a role current taken by Northern Territory Senator Nigel Scullion. And the Minister just happens to have problems in his current job.

Putting aside any possible mischievous motives Abbott is strongly suspected of having, is this crucial portfolio the right fit for Abbott? And more importantly is it the right fit for Australia's first peoples?

All we can do is look at Abbott's track record.

Abbott began his work in indigenous communities in 2007 and in the top job, Abbott proclaimed himself a prime minister for Indigenous Affairs.

The Member for Warringah has had more experience than many other politicians with Indigenous people and is regarded with having a better idea of the problems facing them.

Abbott's promise: "To continue to spend a week a year in a remote indigenous community as I have done over the past decade".

This was helpfully fact-checked by Fairfax Media in 2013. The result was "half-true".

He's kept up his interest despite losing the prime ministership.

During the last visit as Prime Minister he visited the grave site of land rights campaigner Eddie Koiki Mabo, the first for a national leader, but was criticised for saying, "good on him for having a go".

Abbott took Cabinet ministers, like Scullion, Christopher Pyne, Mathias Cormann on the trip to highlight disadvantage, along with departmental staff and a large media contingent.

Regardless of his efforts, Abbott was accused of never fully appreciating Indigenous culture.

Abbott moved portfolios and responsibilities for Indigenous Affairs into the Department of Prime Minster and Cabinet, which ended up a fraught exercise.

Two thousand staff were relocated and policy expertise and connections with communities were lost.

Indigenous funding through the 'Indigenous Advancement Strategy' has been hit hard resulting in a significant impact on services and communities.

But remember Abbott suffered from severe foot-in-mouth when it came to indigenous people.

One key episode was the widespread offence taken when he described living in remote communities as a "lifestyle choice".

Abbott backed a plan in Western Australia to close more than 100 remote communities and move more than 1,000 people, saying "what we can't do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices".

And there are the issues of constitutional recognition and a potential treaty between the Federal Government and Australia's first peoples.

Abbott said in September he was not in favour of a treaty. "I never have been," he said.

"A treaty is something that two nations make with each other, and obviously Aboriginal people are the first Australians, but in the end we're all Australians together, so I don't support a treaty," Abbott said.

However, the push for recognition of Aboriginal people in the constitution is something Abbott supports.

Abbott vowed to 'sweat blood' for the indigenous referendum.

He just had to have a "rumble" with Indigenous leaders to get there.

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