The Uluru Dialogue's Eddie Synot. (Image credit: The Uluru Dialogue)
The following is a statement from Eddie Synot on behalf of the Uluru Dialogue. Mr Synot is a Wemba Wemba public lawyer, a lecturer at Griffith University Law School and a Research Fellow at UNSW's Indigenous Law Centre.
“Despite being one of this country's shortest-serving Prime Ministers, Tony Abbott inflicted more damage to Indigenous affairs and to our communities than most others.
“It is an insult to all Australian people that someone who failed so drastically continues to be given media space and keynote speeches to lecture on Indigenous affairs and our history.
“It is particularly galling when he regularly quotes other leaders out of context and peddles myths and factual inaccuracies when they have been shown to be incorrect.
“When elected, Abbott declared himself "Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs" and then gutted $500 million from vital Indigenous community service programs in his first Budget, despite a pre-election commitment to maintain funding that targeted Closing the Gap activities.
“He created the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS), which was slammed by the Australian National Audit Office in 2017 as rushed and administered in opaque ways that "fell short of the standard required to effectively manage a billion dollars of Commonwealth resources".
“Many highly ranked community programs were rejected in favour of lowly ranked applications hand-picked by the minister and PM, while over 300 applications from vital community services were lost with no reasons given.
“An example of this hypocrisy: Warren Mundine received $330,000 from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy for a TV show on Sky called "Mundine Means Business", while our communities went without programs to support community safety, get kids to school or our people into jobs.
“Abbott used his position as Prime Minister to deny the fact of our history, including telling the Melbourne Institute in 2014: "I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then-unsettled or scarcely settled great south land." Even his mate Mundine was forced to call these comments out as "silly".
“While overlooking the waste and mismanagement under his own Indigenous strategy, Abbott now attacks the National Indigenous Affairs Agency with gross exaggerations, repeating a claim that it spends $30 billion annually on Indigenous programs, when its total budget for last financial year was $4.5billion.
“He continually misrepresents the views of Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister, the late Bob Hawke, by selectively quoting a 1988 speech in which Hawke said "we are a country with no hierarchy of descent. We are a country with no privilege of origin".
“The true context of those words, apparent to anyone who has read the speech, is that Hawke was addressing a wave of anti-Asian sentiment driven by Abbot's mentor, John Howard. In the same speech, Hawke acknowledged Indigenous history pre-existed waves of migration to this country, and his widow Blanche d'Alpuget is on the record as saying her husband would want Australians to back the Voice.
“In short, our communities were gutted and ignored, Closing the Gap went backward and Abbott now believes he can lecture the Australian people.
“All the Voice asks for is a respectful relationship, grounded in the dignity of recognition of the fact of our history, and to be able to have a say on matters that affect us. Abbott never gave us that chance in government and he is working to continue to deny that now. All Australians deserve better.”