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Nothing funny about Abbott’s laughable lines

By Graham Ring - posted Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has made another foray into Indigenous affairs. He spoke to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare recently about the difficulties faced by remote communities. And the health minister’s prescription? A new paternalism.

I tracked down a transcript of the speech assuming it would begin with something along the lines of “A funny thing happened to me on the way here today”.

From there I thought he could warm up the crowd with a few mother-in-law gags and a couple of “two blokes in a bar” scenarios.


Then maybe a longer one about an unlikely collection of people stranded together in a damaged aeroplane working out how to allocate an insufficient number of parachutes.

One could be an Irishman called Paddy, allowing the jokester to bung on the faux-Irish brogue for cheap laughs.

As the evening drew towards its climax, he could slay the punters with the “new paternalism” material and storm off the stage while they were still rolling in the aisles.

After sides were split and thighs were slapped, he could make a triumphant return to the stage to take his encore bows.

But, it seems, the minister was seeking to be taken seriously.

His “back to the future” proposals are truly staggering. The sad and shocking revelations aired on two ABC Lateline programs in recent times shouted to the world a fact already well known by anyone who takes a genuine interest in Aboriginal Australia: some remote Indigenous communities have very serious problems.


Instead of prompting a search for answers, the media circus that ensued became an undeclared “open season” on remote communities. Anyone with a tale to tell or a half-baked idea to expound was given a soapbox.

“Bring in the troops,” some cried, as though economically troubled Australian townships were failing nation states. “Pack them all up,” shouted others, without describing how this wondrous relocation would occur or just where “they” might be subsequently deposited.

Politicians and commentators vied with one another to scale new heights of hyperbole in ever more hysterical attempts to demonstrate their level of outrage. Most laid the blame in the usual place ... at the feet of the victims.

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First published in the National Indigenous Times on June 29, 2006, Issue 108.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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