Australia’s prime minister has been spending time this week camping in one of the country’s most remote indigenous communities, as promised in his pre-election campaign.
Tony Abbott’s week-long visit to East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory was set to conclude on Friday.
The PM’s visit commenced at the weekend only a day after he committed the Australian military to the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq. The deployment of personnel to the Middle East has now presented a need for Mr Abbott to interrupt the visit.
Rather than cut short the stay though, and break a commitment given to indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the Mr Abbott was expected to fly out on Thursday to farewell a main group of air force personnel and return to Nhulunbuy on Friday to fulfil his promise.
However, in remarks made to reporters on Thursday, the prime minister indicated that in light of counter-terrorism raids which occurred in Sydney and Brisbane early on Thursday morning, as much as he wants to he may not be able to make the return this week, as he would need to attend urgent meetings on the terrorism raids matter.
Prior to his election, Mr Abbott committed himself to spending one week a year in one of Australia’s indigenous communities.
Greeted by painted Yolngu dancers, the prime minister arrived in Arnhem Land on Sunday to camp on sacred soil near the mining town of Nhulunbuy.
Arnhem Land is one of the largest Aboriginal reserves in Australia. The location of Mr Abbott’s camp is in the area where, according to legend, the native Australian instrument the didgeridoo was created by a respected spiritual figure named Ganbulabula.
About his visit, Mr Abbott said it is a good opportunity to learn about the needs of the local community and its people.
On Monday he visited an indigenously-run sawmill and the site of a possible new bauxite mine.
It is reported that the community in this unforgiving part of Australia hold a strong sense of goodwill towards the prime minister. Mr Abbott, even some of his biggest critics will admit, has a history of genuine deep interest in and commitment to indigenous issues.
In the past, politicians governing the country have made empty promises pledging jobs and health care to the Aboriginal community and it appears that Mr Abbott wants to avoid making the same promises and not keeping them.
Indigenous leaders are seeking a renewed focus on a referendum for constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians.
While a bill recognizing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the country’s first inhabitants was passed last year, recognition of these groups is conspicuously amiss in the Australian constitution.
“I think we’re all in favour of doing the right thing by Aboriginal people,” Mr Abbott said during his Arnhem visit this week.
“The important thing now is to set a timetable for this [the referendum]… It’s more important that we get it right than we rush it, because the last thing anyone ought to want is to put a proposal of this nature to the people and have it fail.”
Arnhem Land suffers high unemployment rates along with infant mortality, drug abuse and alcoholism plaguing the communities were on the agenda when local leaders’ met with Mr Abbott.
IMAGE: Tony Abbott on his visit to Arnhem Land this week (via Twitter)
*UPDATED 07:47 to include Mr Abbott’s Thursday remarks following counter-terrorism raids in Sydney and Brisbane.