Tony Abbott considering police-in-schools policy for remote Indigenous communities


Posted

November 01, 2018 12:13:58

Special envoy on Indigenous affairs Tony Abbott has told the ABC he is open to the idea of allowing police officers into schools in remote communities as part of a push to improve attendance and engagement.

Key points:

  • Tony Abbott is visiting the APY Lands as part of his role as Indigenous affairs special envoy
  • He is considering whether allowing police into schools to reduce truancy will be part of his recommendations
  • His visit faced opposition from an Aboriginal elder and some community members

The former prime minister is visiting Pukatja on South Australia’s APY Lands on his last day touring Indigenous communities including Coober Pedy, Murray Bridge and Koonibba in South Australia’s far west.

Earlier this month, the Northern Territory Government revealed a new program to introduce police officers into 10 schools, with the aim of targeting children at risk of disengaging from the education system.

Mr Abbott has visited remote Indigenous schools as part of his tour, and said allowing police into the grounds was a “very valuable” option that should be more widely considered.

“There’s been quite a history certainly in South Australia, certainly in the Northern Territory, of school-based police,” Mr Abbott told the ABC’s RN Drive program.

“If we’re talking about secondary schools in troubled communities, I think some close linkage between the local police and the school is often good… because people get to know each other.

“In New South Wales we’ve got police boys clubs, or police citizens clubs I think they call them now, that are attached to schools so it’s by no means unusual to have a very strong relationship between the police and some secondary schools.”

Mr Abbott was controversially appointed to the new position of special envoy after failing to secure a ministry in the reshuffle following August’s federal leadership turmoil, with the move angering some Aboriginal leaders.

He would not comment directly on whether police in schools would form part of his initial recommendations, which he intends to deliver Parliament by the end of the year.

He said boosting funding to remote communities was “part of the answer” to fixing fundamental social problems.

“I don’t think it’s the whole answer by any means but certainly I think more funding — particularly where communities want to step up and make more of an effort themselves — I think is going to be important,” he said.

Communities show ‘gratitude’ at visit, Abbott says

During his prime ministership, Mr Abbott was criticised for using the term “lifestyle choices” to describe traditional living on remote communities.

Asked whether he regretted his wording, he did not back down.

“I think that we’ve got to appreciate that what was being talked about by the West Australian Government was how you could better handle very, very, very tiny settlements,” he said.

“I think the average size of these places was less than 10 people … if people want to go and live in a place that’s very, very remote in company with just a few other people, that’s obviously their choice.”

In 2014, Mr Abbott oversaw the introduction of a remote schools attendance strategy, but has now conceded it had yielded mixed results.

“Has remote school attendance dramatically improved? In general, no. Has it improved in some places? Yes it has,” he said.

“Originally a lot of the remote school attendance teams were basically a glorified bus service.

“I think now some of them at least are becoming very sophisticated in terms of their engagement with individual households and families, in terms of their knowledge of why it is that particular kids might not be at school.

“I’m pretty impressed with the teams I’ve seen over the last couple of days and I think that, on balance, the remote school attendance strategy has been a success and I certainly would like to see it continue.”

Mr Abbott was expected to receive a hostile reception in some communities, with Aboriginal elder Tauto Sansbury saying it was a “wasted exercise” because Mr Abbott was a backbencher.

SA Labor’s Aboriginal affairs spokesman Kyam Maher was also sceptical, saying Mr Abbott’s appointment to the new role of Indigenous envoy was “deeply offensive” to many Aboriginal people.

But Mr Abbott said his reception had been “so far a pretty good one”, adding that there was “a degree of gratitude to get the ear of a senior politician”.

“I think the more remote somewhere is, the keener they are to get someone to come out from Canberra and listen,” he said.

Topics:

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