Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Abbott's complex Aboriginal odyssey

  • 04 September 2008

The news that Tony Abbott would spend three weeks in a remote Aboriginal community came as a bit of a surprise to me and I expect to many others. But it was a somewhat pleasing surprise.

We don't often hear of politicians getting down and dirty with their constituents. It is hard to imagine those involved in political decisions regarding prisons 'doing time' in custody, or those shaping policies concerning the homeless spending time on the streets.

While we don't have to experience literally another's world in order to be open, respectful and attentive to their needs, it is always important to enter into their world as much as we can. And this involves a risk that can prove transformative, even life-changing.

The news of Tony Abbott's going to Coen encouraged me to listen to him on the ABC's Radio National. He was talking with Fran Kelly about his experiences in this small Aboriginal community north of Cairns. I then went online to read his blog. I was immediately struck by his introductory sentence: 'here are three examples of the complexity of Aboriginal life, especially in remote locations'.

Complexity is not a word one often hears from politicians.

His first example concerned an employer who came to the community seeking workers for his mobile abattoir. He arrived during a funeral and was not able to see all the men who might have been interested. He had to return again, a five-hour road trip each way.

Then there was the man who was being released from jail after serving a sentence for domestic assault. His partner and children, in fear and in order to stay away from him, felt no option but to leave the community and go to Cairns, away from their close family networks and supports.

His final example was the school and its initiative to support full attendance. It used a public noticeboard to highlight current and past rates of attendance, including the names of those whose attendance was 100 per cent in the preceding term. However, he noted, there was nothing currently on this board as there was disagreement about the meaning of 'non-attendance'.

I found Tony Abbott's use of the word complexity quite engaging and encouraging. It suggested some reflection and a desire to deepen the experience. The information he gave about each of his examples was enough to suggest that remote community life is not