MUNGO MacCALLUM. Tony Abbott – from a back bench rebel to a back bench envoy.

Sep 2, 2018

Our new, or at least our current, Prime Minister, has a plan to solve the Tony Abbott problem – make him an envoy to his indigenous Australia.

Of course he would prefer to make the man an envoy to outer space, if not beyond; but politics remains the art of the possible. So the idea is to try and get him as far out of sight as is practicable, and hope that he shuts up in the process.

The lunar rump of the Liberal party would have wanted him right back in the tent – hell, they would have wanted him back as their rightful and righteous leader. Failing that they would have settled for a senior cabinet position, such as Home Affairs or Defence.

But rewarding three solid years of wreckage and destruction against his then elected leader would have been too big a step for the majority of the party room, who may have admired Abbott’s chutzpah in proclaiming that the age of assassination is over, but were not yet inclined to take his word for it.

So the great disruptor is to be unleashed on the long suffering Aboriginal citizens of the nation. Or perhaps not; this Clayton’s appointment has already come seriously unstuck, as does just about everything to do with the Mad Monk.

Scott Morrison says he wants to indulge Abbott’s passion, and points to the former prime minister’s various excursions to the Aurukun settlement and his claim that he wanted to be remembered as the Indigenous Affairs Prime Minister.

Well, perhaps he did, but the Indigenes themselves did not see him that way. Abbott was generally regarded as a well meaning paternalist, albeit with the authoritarian tendencies that made up so much of his political baggage.

And he confirmed that verdict when, as soon as the job was mooted, he said he intended to go hard on Aboriginal parents who did not compel their children to attend school regularly. At a time when governments, including Morrison’s, are insisting that they want to talk with Indigenous Australians than talk at them, the Abbott formula remains proscriptive.

And this is why a large majority of Aboriginal stakeholders, including Abbott’s own Liberal colleague, the Aboriginal Health Minister Ken Wyatt, are less than enthusiastic about his role as an envoy sent to tell them yet again, that the government is looking after their interests.

After Malcolm Turnbull’s peremptory dismissal of their painstaking work in preparing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, it will take something more than sending Abbott off to the outback to get him out of the way to persuade them that the coalition will ever be serious. As one critic pointed out, Abbott can’t even get along with his own mob, let alone a new bunch.

And of course he won’t shut up; he never does. All Morrison is offering him is a new platform to spruik his views – there is no suggestion that he will be more disciplined as a backbench envoy than as a backbench rebel. And as such, Morrison’s move is just as contemptuous as Turnbull’s last one was.

Just as Gough Whitlam shunted Vincent Gair off to Dublin as a political convenience that enraged the Irish, Morrison is trying the same cynical manoeuvre with Abbott – except he can’t entice Abbott out of parliament.

Only the voters of Warringah can do that. And it need hardly be said that there are very few Indigenes in those leafy suburbs. Perhaps our Prime Minister plans to conscript a few – at least then we would know he was serious.

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