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Abbott teaches what he preaches: the Age.

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Sat, 2nd August 2008


The Hon Tony Abbott MHR

Shadow Minister for Families, Community Services, Indigenous Affairs and the Voluntary Sector

Liberal MP Tony Abbott has chosen an entirely different way to spend the

parliamentary winter break — teaching Aboriginal children in a remote community in

Cape York.

With his party in turmoil over the question of its leadership, Mr Abbott will spend the

next three weeks in the township of Coen, north of Cairns.

The goal of the trip is to familiarise himself with indigenous issues, says Mr Abbott,

who organised the trip through prominent Cape York indigenous leader Noel


"The problem with politicians getting to know the issues in indigenous townships is

that we tend to suffer from what Aboriginal people call the 'seagull syndrome' — we

fly in, scratch around and fly out," said Mr Abbott, shadow minister for indigenous

affairs. "The difference between this trip and all my other trips to indigenous areas is

that I'm going to be there for three weeks and I'm going to be performing what's a

useful task in the community — instead of coming in, sitting down with council …

stopping at the local art shop and then going."

Asked about the timing of his trip given the Liberals' turmoil, Mr Abbott said it was

important to focus on pressing issues. "I think it is important to say, 'Well, these

things matter', and I think it is important to break out of that routine of office — of

white cars, sittings of Parliament and endless rounds of meeting people in suits.

"If you don't make time to do these sorts of things, it will never happen and you'll

become a prisoner of the standard round of politics."

Mr Abbott will teach remedial reading to Aboriginal children in the mornings and work

with an income management group in the afternoons, helping families manage their

welfare payments.

He expects to live in housing provided for teachers.

"It's very easy for Australians living in big cities to either romanticise or demonise the

situation in Aboriginal places — to kind of look at things through the 'noble innocents'

prism or through the 'chronically dysfunctional' prism, and I suspect that is so often

the case. The truth is more complex and more nuanced," he said. "You learn a hell

of a lot more living in a place than just going in and talking to people about what it's