Sunday, March 15, 2015

Australian PM Seeks to Douse Furore Over "Outback" Comments

Must not criticize blacks

Prime Minister Tony Abbott sought to douse a furor over comments suggesting people living in remote Outback communities are making a “lifestyle choice” shutting them of jobs and economic opportunity, telling indigenous critics to consider his record of trying to improve the lives of aboriginal Australians.

Mr. Abbott, who promised to make his country’s checkered record of treatment of its indigenous population a priority after winning elections 18 months ago, this week backed a decision by conservative allies in Western Australia state to abandon up to 150 remote communities on the grounds they were too costly and difficult to maintain.

“What we can’t do is endlessly subsidize lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have,” Mr. Abbott told a radio station in the remote town of Kalgoorlie on Tuesday.

“If people choose to live miles away from where there’s a school, if people choose not to access the (radio broadcast) school of the air, if people choose to live where there’s no jobs, obviously it’s very, very difficult to close the gap,” he said.

Indigenous Australians make up around 2.5% of the 24-million population and suffer lower life expectancy and higher rates of joblessness than other Australians, as well as greater levels of domestic violence and substance abuse. In 2007, then-Prime Minister John Howard sent police and troops into remote communities to curb widespread child sex abuse.

Mr. Abbott promised to govern as “a prime minister for aboriginal affairs” and told parliament last year that failures toward Australia’s indigenous people were “a stain on our soul.” He promised to “sweat blood” to secure recognition for indigenous Australians in the constitution, backing a national vote on the issue.

But his comments this week prompted a storm of protest from indigenous leaders, with aboriginal lawyers and land rights campaigner Noel Pearson calling them “disappointing and hopeless.” The chairman of Mr. Abbott’s own Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine, said as many as 12,000 people could be affected or forced to move from their homes.

“It’s about their life, it’s about their very essence, it’s about their very culture,” Mr. Mundine told state radio.

Around 12,000 people live in 274 indigenous communities in Western Australia and the state’s conservative government wants to close around half of those. WA Premier Colin Barnett has said some have as few as five residents.

The conservative leader of the neighboring Northern Territory, Adam Giles, whose government overseas a far-flung and largely indigenous population, said he didn’t believe lawmakers should be telling people where to live, particularly indigenous communities with strong ties to traditional lands.

Mr. Abbott, who last month survived a challenge to his leadership brought on by slumping polls and policy gaffes, said people should look at his record on indigenous rights, including a week spent last year running the country from a remote aboriginal community in the Northern Territory made famous by the Crocodile Dundee films.

“I’m very comfortable with my credentials when it comes to doing the right thing by the aboriginal people of Australia,” he said.



Anonymous said...

Their lands were stolen from the Aborigines by the English; they should receive generous consideration.

Anonymous said...

Maybe "generous consideration" should be applied, but it's unlikely that most Aborigines would want to be living now as they did before "the English" arrived to "steal" their lands.
Colonialism brings benefits as well as losses, and isolation from the rest of the World is as impossible as King Canute halting the rising tide.

Anonymous said...

As a proud Western Australian its a hard place to be in.
The fact is that many/most of these communities are stricken by poverty, disease, abuse and rampant welfare dependency. None of this is likely to change anytime soon.
However, forcing people from their homes and lands has never worked well in the past and isn't likely to work this time either.
It is an intractable problem.