What Does Tony Abbott's Special Envoy To Indigenous Affairs Role Even Mean?
It certainly looks like Abbott is "back in favour".
Tony Abbott has formally accepted his new role as special envoy for Indigenous issues, an appointment that's as bafflingly undefined as it is insulting to some Indigenous Australians.
The former Prime Minister was offered the unusual role under Scott Morrison's new government.
While reportedly initially unsure of the position on Monday, by Wednesday he had accepted.
"I really do want to focus on practical things, like school education," he told 2GB's Ray Hadley, adding that the weight of his former Prime Ministership would bring "authority" to the role.
"Inevitably there will be a lot of talk about constitutional recognition ... I really think that stuff to do with the constitution needs to stay with the PM, because what I want to do is make a difference to people's lives, and a focus on school education is the best way for people to go."
The details of Abbott's new role remain unclear. It was reported that he "enthusiastically" accepted the role on Wednesday with some "recommendations" as to how it should work, but so far both Abbott and Morrison's office have yet to clarify what any of that entails.
"It's about getting Indigenous young people into school," said Morrison at a doorstop on Wednesday, when asked to respond to widespread criticism.
"What more important job could there be? When you focus on the outcomes, which I know is what Tony is doing, that makes him the right person [for the job]."
He did not elaborate on details.
Earlier, Abbott had told Hadley that he didn't want to "trip over the toes" of Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion.
Scullion's office hasn't commented, either.
Political scientist at Monash University Zareh Ghazarian told ten daily that Abbott's appointment signals that he's "back in favour" with a party that's relegated him to the backbench ever since losing the party leadership.
"While he is not in the ministry, the envoy position gives a sense that he is values and can make an important contribution to public policy, especially in the specific area of Indigenous affairs -- which is a national priority for the Australian government" he said.
However, Ghazarian pointed out that 'special envoy' is by no means a traditional role, and it not commonly seen in Australian politics.
"When the title has been used, it has often referred to specialist consultants outside of parliament to undertake a specific project."
While it does not come with any special powers -- like a ministerial role would -- the enjoy position does give Abbott the clout to talk about Indigenous issues.
That will not be of any great comfort to several leaders within the Indigenous community.
Labor's Patrick Dodson said his appointment was both "condescending and a serious worry" for First Nations people, given his "ignorant, hopeless and frankly offensive track record on Indigenous issues."
Dodson cited examples such the $500 million funding cut to Indigenous programs in the 2014 budget, and his much-derided comments that Indigenous people living in remote communities were making a "lifestyle choice".
Abbott’s appointment has raised questions within the Indigenous education sector, with Darren Godwell, CEO of Smarter Stronger, asking what — if anything — he will be able to achieve.
“Mr Abbott’s focus on school attendance of Indigenous students is not backed by the majority of research, which shows the strongest predictors of improved educational outcomes are teacher efficacy and student engagement,” Godwell said.
“This is where priorities and resources should lie.”
Indigenous non-profit organisation National Congress described the appointment as "deeply disappointing", adding that Abbott "has a history of supporting harmful, paternalistic policies".
Arrernte woman and prominent writer Celeste Liddle described Abbott's appointment on Twitter as being like a "bad and abusive ex [who] won't get the message even though we willed him out of our lives years ago."
And Barkindji man Paul Dutton told ten daily that Abbott was "never truly a supporter of Aboriginal policy, community, or people."
It waits to be seen what, if anything, Abbott will achieve in the unusual role. But it does seem to be an appointment made with the interests of Abbott in mind, rather than the people it is trying to serve.