Leaders say Abbott should re-style his choices
The Prime Minister is having a tough time finding friends to agree that Aboriginality is a lifestyle choice.
Living and connecting with one’s ancestral lands is central to the lives of many Aboriginal people. It is not just a lifestyle choice – like bike-riding or bigotry.
Mr Abbott made the disturbingly out-of-touch claim while defending the WA Government’s decision to close between 100 and 150 of the state’s 274 remote communities.
Just 507 people live in the 115 smallest WA communities - an average of 4.4 people per community.
State and federal governments contribute about $30 million per year to pay for services, but the WA Government says it will have to close dozens of sites when the Commonwealth ceases its contribution in two years’ time
The decision to close the outback towns as well as Mr Abbott’s “lifestyle choices” remark has been roundly condemned by the Indigenous community.
Abbott’s hand-picked Indigenous advisers have called the statement “disrespectful” and simplistic.
“I think it's a very disappointing and hopeless statement by the Prime Minister, quite frankly,” Indigenous leader Noel Pearson told the ABC.
“It's very disrespectful to cast fear into these communities through a kind of policy thought bubble rather than a considered position from the Commonwealth Government as to the future - the anxious future - of these remote communities.
“He has got no plan for the future of these communities in the event that they close down.
“I'm just bitterly disappointed to hear this deranged debate go on in the substandard manner in which it's being conducted,” Mr Pearson said.
Warren Mundine, Chair of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, said the situation was more complex than the Prime Minister appears to think.
“These people are actually living on their homelands and it affects a lot of things, it affects their cultural activities, it affects their native title, it affects a number of areas,” he told reporters.
“It's not as simple as... if someone from Sydney decides to have a treechange and go and live in the bush.
“It's about their life, it's about their very essence, it's about their very culture.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said he was “baffled” by Mr Abbott’s choice of words.
“I think they're poorly thought out,” he said.
“I think they will cause offence in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.”
But there is a push for real discussion amid the outrage over the “lifestyle choices” remark, with some saying the closure of the communities will add to the woes of already-strained nearby towns.
“What are we going to have? More communities on the fringe of our towns like we've got in places like Kalgoorlie and Darwin and Alice Springs already?” Mr Gooda asked.
“We're going to make a situation that's pretty bad already in those places even worse.
“There was a time in our history when they kicked us out of town, and now they want to bring us back in — just by a flick of the policy switch.
“Who is going to welcome these people in the country towns and suburbs of this country, as if there's a big welcoming mat for Aboriginal people from remote communities to be welcomed into the social and economic mainstream of Australia?”
Senior federal ministers have leapt to their boss's defence.
Malcolm Turnbull has warned against turning the comments into a “Let's-give-Tony-Abbott-a-belting occasion”.
Christopher Pyne dismissed the calls for Mr Abbott to apologise as “bizarre and hysterical”, while Joe Hockey says the PM’s use of “lifestyle choice” was accurate.
“Do they want that lifestyle to live in a remote area? Some of them do. Some of them say it is part of their tradition,” Hockey said.