I have subscriptions to a whole bunch of varied and different email lists, and one of those is the email list of Tony Abbott MP, the former Australian Health Minister. And through reading much of what he writes, I’ve formulated the opinion “Tony Abbott is a top bloke, one I’d sit and have a drink with”.
Mr Abbott is a practising Catholic, and this often resulted in him getting loads of crap from the media, particularly in the debate over abortion drug RU486, and even more so in the weeks it was thought that he’d fathered a son out of wedlock, although later revelations found that the man wasn’t Mr. Abbott’s son. But now I’m getting sidetracked.
Tony Abbott, while still a member of Parliament, is actually out there doing something that will make a difference. Something pretty major. And now, I’ll copy the information from his email for you to read.
Tony Abbott blogs live from the Cape York township of Coen where he is spending three weeks working as a volunteer literacy tutor in the mornings, then working with an income management group to help families manage their welfare payments in the afternoons.
Read Tony’s exclusive diary from Coen below.
Coen, where I’m teaching for three weeks, is on Cape York about eight hours drive north of Cairns. In many respects, it’s an idyllic hamlet: 250 people, a school, a pub, two shops and a cafe that’s just opened which serves a decent cappuccino.
There are not the high wire fences, car bodies and mangy dogs everywhere that mark many Aboriginal towns. I can leave my bike, unlocked, propped against the side of the “donga” at night. All the kids come to school nearly every day. There are also two or three white families who have lived in and around the town for four generations.
Still, there are some serious problems. Hardly any Aboriginal people have jobs, except for the black work for the dole scheme called CDEP. There is some prodigious drinking. A couple of years ago, a local man bashed his wife to death in the main street between drinking sessions at the pub. On the other hand, a Cape York man currently runs the local indigenous council and a Cape York woman is a highly capable teacher at the school. A local girl is back in town after six years professional travel as part of the Bangarra dance company.
As everywhere, the challenge is to engage Aboriginal people in the real economy rather than the welfare one. That means trying to ensure that they have a good, mainstream education rather than just an “Aboriginal” one. It also means “inculturating” people to think of working for a living as normal rather than as something for whitefellas. I can easily
Thanks to Noel Pearson and his team, there is a mood for change here. Local Aboriginal people now say that they support welfare reform although, so far, no one has actually suffered any consequences for failing to send children to school. As well, very complex family arrangements could mean that the wrong people have their benefits quarantined. Some local people say they would like to buy their own homes although the difference between their cost to build and a market price means there will still have to be a government subsidy.
So many worthy schemes have ended in failure and disillusionment that any optimism must be guarded and surrounded by caveats. So much has been three steps forward followed by at least two steps back. To give up though, would be to betray the ideals which make Australia special.
Surrounded by eager, friendly kids, it’s hard not to be hopeful even if some of them are falling asleep in class because of last night’s party.
UPDATE: And in other Liberal news…