The new Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, is under fire for appointing Tony Abbott, who is neither Aboriginal nor a Torres Strait Islander, as Indigenous Affairs envoy. In interviews with ABC news, Abbott stated he is not entirely sure what the position actually means, but has accepted anyway, saying that his focus will be on education for Aboriginal children.
According to ABC news, Nigel Scullion, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, who is also non-Aboriginal and non-Torres Strait Islander, is looking forward to working with Abbott. However, there has been an outcry from Aboriginal leaders and various activist groups across the country about what this means for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island community. Pat Dodson, an Aboriginal senator for the Labor party, tweeted “we asked for a voice, and we got Abbott,” and said he finds Abbott’s new role insulting to Aboriginal people.
The Guardian compiled quotes from Abbott, including “pre-invasion Australia was extraordinarily basic and raw… nothing but bush” and his suggestion that the colonization of Australia was a “defining moment.” He is also quoted as saying that Aussie taxpayers should not pay for the “lifestyle choices” of Aboriginal people. The Guardian also reported that as Prime Minister, Abbott cut over $500 million of Aboriginal affairs funding.
Reporters from ABC News quote Jackie Higgens, the Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples: “Haven’t we been punished enough in Indigenous Affairs? How long can we put up with a paternalistic government who does not choose to engage or talk to us?” Higgens’ concerns revolve around the lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices in parliament to represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
An “Indigenous envoy” role, quite simply, should be given to an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. Even if the position is “just a title,” it raises the question of why the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community wasn’t involved in the decision-making process. Somebody who is not Aboriginal cannot comprehend what it means to be Aboriginal or even begin to understand the complex effects of colonization. At the very least, they could be empathetic and listen to multiple requests from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but it is likely that the person in this role will simply be another patriarchal politician with no connection to the people they are governing. The decision to appoint Tony Abbott as an Indigenous envoy exemplifies the issue with Australian politics: the majority of politicians in Australia are white males over the age of fifty.
According to ABC news, the liberal party strayed too far left under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. Nonetheless, although the plebiscite was unpopular, Australians voted yes to same-sex marriage, a sign the current government is too conservative and out of touch with the majority of the population. Similarly, Abbott is out of touch with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, even if he prides himself on “visiting remote Aboriginal communities at least once a year,” according to SBS news. Furthermore, in January 2018, a Guardian article about Nigel Scullion demonstrates the lack of connection between politicians and the Australian people. Scullion claims that no Aboriginal person has brought up whether to change the date of “Australia day,” when every year there are debates regarding the topic. In Melbourne, for example, citizenship ceremonies are no longer allowed to be held on 26 January after a unanimous vote by the Yarra City council. They are also no longer referring to 26 January as “Australia day.” Australian politics have a long way to go regarding giving voices to non-white and minority groups.