Abbott, the Truth and Cost of his Indigenous Volunteering
By now we’ve all heard it, as soon as criticism of the LNP’s policies on Indigenous Affairs (or lack thereof ) are raised the default position of LNP members, journalists and the apologists of in action is rolled out. Tony Abbott volunteers in Indigenous communities we are told, he goes for a week a year and these statements of “fact” are usually then followed by a barrage of holier than thou tripe about how much Mr Abbott could teach the rest of us….
So sure of this position, so much has it become the accepted reality, that statements from the LNP and journalists come to us on this subject with gay abandon. Take last night on the ABC’s Q and A program:-
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: We know that Tony Abbott works in Indigenous communities at least a week or two a year, and he has said that if he is elected Prime Minister that he will continue to do that and that he will take senior bureaucrats with him. He has done that in Cape York…
We know this do we? This just goes completely unchallenged and is gospel truth is it? Well here is what I know.
In August of 2012 Tony Abbott did indeed go to Cape York, but it wasn’t for a week or two as Mr Pyne suggests. It was for 2 days! It was a working bee of sorts and some of Australia’s business leaders were taken along to volunteer as well. Photos of Abbott with tools in hand were taken and the myth of Abbott the saviour of the Black man had a wonderful photo op. No problem so far until you examine the Expenditure on Entitlements paid by the Department of Finance and Deregulation to Mr Abbott for this trip of “Volunteering”. And what do we find on page 12? An amount of $9,636.36, tax payer dollars, to fund the hire of a private charter flight for the 2 days. I don’t know about you, but when I volunteer to hammer in a few nails for a day or two I don’t ask the people of Australia to cough up 10k. That isn’t volunteering, that is the most expensive labourer in the history of Australia. I wonder what the sandwiches cost….(http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/parliamentarians-reporting/docs/P31/ABBOTT_Tony.pdf page 12.)
So was this a once off? Not on your life!
On another one of his trips to an Indigenous Community Mr Abbott was off to sell his version of the Wild Rivers Legislation to the traditional owners it would impact. Not quite volunteering as such, but policy is good and spending time in Indigenous communities is to be encouraged if it results in consultation that means that locals get their message across and this results in positive policy changes. So just how much did Mr Abbott listen to the local people of the Indigenous community he visited? How much was this reflected in his policy? Because hey, we know (or are told) he has the ear of the Black man…
”We do not support his shonky Bill,” said activist Murrando Yanner of the Carpentaria Land Council. ”We think it is badly drafted and legally unenforceable.” ”He will leave unhappy,” said Mr Yanner, who supports the existing Wild River legislation. ”His new Bill is a dogs breakfast.’
Well, that didn’t go to plan. It was neither volunteering nor listening to the locals. No harm in trying I suppose and if you spent the week out in the community helping it has some purpose, but little use if the status quo is maintained and you ignore the wishes of the people you supposedly assist. Well there is some harm and it wasn’t for a week. The harm comes in the form of another private charter flight, cost to the tax payer, $32,545.00. Because nothing says I volunteer to help those in need like a 30k ride in a jet. Oh and that week or two Pyne talks about? That trip that cost we the tax payer $32,545.00 in flights alone, was for just one night! (http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/parliamentarians-reporting/docs/T28/ABBOTT_Tony.pdf p29)
So when weeks are days and days cost tens of thousands of dollars and volunteering is photo ops and not listening to the traditional owners of the land you have to rename these volunteering trips. Tony Abbott’s very expensive, tax payer funded, private jet flown, not listening tours of outback Australia.
Next time an LNP member or journalist drops the “Abbott volunteers for weeks in Indigenous communities” line, call bullshit and then refer them to the figures. Three days and nearly $45000 in flights alone…, if that’s volunteering the rest of us are really doing it all wrong. Many of us, some one million odd Australians, do volunteer every year for community organisations, they slog their guts out, donate large amounts of money and never even ask for a thank you. The audacity of this public lie should be even more shocking when we remember that Indigenous life expectancy is at third world levels and Mr Abbott is racking up huge bills to do nothing about it while claiming credit for work he simply doesn’t do!