Australian premier Tony Abbott shifted his office to a tent in an isolated Aboriginal community Monday, keeping a promise made when he came to power despite having just committed troops to the fight against Islamic State.
Abbott vowed to spend a week each year in a remote indigenous location when he was sworn in 12 months ago, seeking to be the “prime minister for Aboriginal affairs”.
He made good on his commitment by moving the hub of government to a tent compound on the outskirts of Nhulunbuy on the northern tip of Australia, nearly 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) east of Darwin.
Despite the remote location, he said he would stay in close contact with Canberra and had access to secure communications to do so.
The decision to join the anti-IS campaign came just days after Canberra lifted its terror alert level to “high” on growing concern about Australian jihadists returning from fighting in Iraq and Syria.
Aborigines, who number about 500,000 of a total population of 23 million, are the most disadvantaged Australians, suffering disproportionate levels of disease, imprisonment and social problems as well as lower educational attainment, employment and life expectancy.
They are believed to have numbered around one million at the time of British settlement two centuries ago.
– ‘Strangers in their own country’ –
Abbott, who used to volunteer in indigenous communities before becoming prime minister, said he wanted to give Aborigines his full attention “to gain a better understanding of the needs of people living and working in those areas”.
Australian lawmakers formally recognised indigenous peoples as the country’s first inhabitants last year, five years after an historic apology to Aborigines for past wrongs.
There are now plans for a referendum to recognise Aboriginal people, and their rights, in the constitution.
He added that part of his task this week was “to try to build a consensus for change; change that does help lift Aboriginal people, that does help to ensure that never again do the first Australians feel like strangers in their own country”.