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Envoy Abbott to receive mixed reception from SA Aboriginal leaders

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Former Prime Minister turned special envoy on Indigenous Affairs, Tony Abbott, will visit South Australia next week to speak to Aboriginal communities across the state, InDaily can reveal.

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The State Government has confirmed Abbott will visit South Australia in his new role as special envoy on Indigenous affairs to the Federal Government.

InDaily understands Abbott will visit Aboriginal communities in Adelaide, Ceduna, Koonibba, Yalata, Murray Bridge, Coober Pedy, Umuwa and Pukatja from next Wednesday.

Abbott, who held the Indigenous Affairs portfolio during his prime ministership, accepted an offer to become Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s special envoy on Indigenous Affairs in August.

Morrison offered the Liberal backbencher the role after leaving him out of his cabinet following the Liberal leadership change.

The appointment has been widely condemned by Aboriginal people across the country, including the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, who argued Abbott had a poor track record on consulting Aboriginal people about issues affecting Indigenous health and education.

Some Aboriginal groups also argued the role should have been given to a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, or elected by Indigenous people.

InDaily contacted Abbott’s office for details on his South Australian visit but we did not receive a response.

News of the visit came as a surprise to some prominent South Australian Aboriginal leaders, who said they only found out about Abbott’s plans when InDaily contacted them today.

Kaurna Nation Cultural Heritage chair Jeffrey Newchurch told InDaily he was yet to be contacted by Abbott’s office, but he welcomed news of his visit.

“I most definitely would want to sit down with him and have a chat about issues impacting Kaurna people,” Newchurch said.

“From Kaurna’s perspective we’ve been pushed aside – the government treats us like rubbish.

“It would be good to speak to him about a few matters around burials, social inadequacies, funding.”

Newchurch said while he was sceptical of Abbott and the Federal Government’s commitment to working with Aboriginal people, he said it was important for groups to engage with politicians about their concerns.

“I see this as an opportunity to work together because it’s only when you have a good relationship and people are working together that you get good outcomes,” he said.

“We need good relationships with government. It should be our number one priority.”

Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority chair Derek Walker said he also saw Abbott’s visit as an opportunity for the community to voice their concerns to the Federal Government.

Walker said he had been informed of Abbott’s visit “a few weeks ago”, but he said the government was yet to confirm what Abbott would do while on Ngarrindjeri country.

“Certainly we welcome him coming, him having a special role in governance in Australia,” Walker said.

“The Government appointed him to a particular special position and he is now coming to Ngarrindjeri country to listen, which we are very happy about.”

At the top of Walker’s agenda will be economic development, stable governance and developing a better relationship with government.

“We’ve got a raft of issues, some particular concerns about economic development, housing, health and how we believe we should empower community,” he said.

“The fact that he is coming means has the capacity to drill a nail in the ground with issues impacting our community.”

Walker talked down controversy surrounding Abbott’s appointment, saying it was important that a government minister wanted to visit Ngarrindjeri country to hear first-hand from the community.

“It’s not about whether we like him or not, it’s because of who he is.

“He has a special role in government and we are happy that he is coming to Ngarrindjeri country to talk about how we can strengthen relationships with government.”

But Ngarrindjeri elder and former Greens candidate for the federal electorate of Mayo, Major Sumner, said he was sceptical about Abbott’s track record as Minister for Indigenous affairs.

“I think it’s good that he’s coming here to learn about Aboriginal culture, but I think when you’ve got someone that’s outspoken on areas about what should happen in Aboriginal communities, that is a concern,” he said.

“It seems like he was put in this role as a punishment position.”

Sumner said he would prefer to have an Aboriginal person as special envoy on Indigenous Affairs, rather than someone “who has to learn how to relate to Aboriginal people and their stories”.

“You want a person who knows the country, knows the stories and knows the land,” he said.

“It’s good that he’s coming but he’s got to keep his promises.”

Narrunga elder Tauto Sansbury was also critical of Abbott’s appointment.

He said he had “no interest of seeing Abbott and no interest in having him as special envoy on Indigenous Affairs”.

“We’ve got a Minister for Indigenous Affairs and I would rather speak to him personally and professionally rather than speak to Abbott,” he said.

“They’ve given Abbott a job that he doesn’t need or isn’t suited for.”

Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Kyam Maher said South Australia didn’t need a special envoy to help it support Aboriginal communities.

“The Uluru Statement articulated the very clear and unified aspirations of First Nations People. A main component was a voice to parliament (and) that was almost instantaneously dismissed by the Federal Liberal Government,” he said.

“The voice they have instead been provided is Special Envoy Tony Abbott, the self-appointed Prime Minister for Indigenous affairs, the very same person who described Aboriginal people living on country to be a ‘lifestyle choice’.

“If Tony Abbott is the answer, you are asking the wrong question.”

InDaily contacted a State Government spokesperson to confirm if the SA Government would speak to Abbott during his visit but we did not receive a response before deadline.

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