Indigenous Australians won’t blame Prime Minister Tony Abbott for having to leave Arnhem Land to deal with security issues.
The deployment of troops to Iraq meant Prime Minister Tony Abbott couldn’t complete his promised week with indigenous communities.
But they don’t seem to blame him.
Mr Abbott flew out of north east Arnhem Land on Thursday to hold security meetings in Sydney and farewell some of the 600 troops bound for Iraq to help combat Islamic State.
He had been in the region since Sunday, running the government from a temporary tent village with help from several ministers.
But he left hours after police conducted anti-terrorism raids in Sydney and Brisbane that resulted in a man charged with allegedly organising with an IS ringleader to kidnap and murder by beheading a random member of the Australian public.
Djambawa Marawili, who sits on the prime minister’s indigenous advisory council, says Mr Abbott’s four days in the area was long enough to get conversations started.
“He got the message,” Mr Marawili said in Arnhem Land.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion echoed that sentiment, saying no one would be upset by his departure.
Several cabinet members, including Education Minister Christopher Pyne, Health Minister Peter Dutton and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, were taught about indigenous culture while out here, he said.
“I think the people who run our nation have a responsibility to understand about Aboriginal and Islander culture,” Senator Scullion told reporters on Friday.
He and the prime minister have begun discussing where the next trip to indigenous communities should be held and Senator Scullion would like to see West Australia’s Kimberly region on the list.
He says the prime minister is a man of his word and will continue to honour his pledge to spend time each year in indigenous communities.
At the top of Mr Abbott’s Arnhem Land agenda was discussing constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians.
AAP understands his preferred timeframe for a vote on changing the constitution is 2017.
Mr Marawili wants the government to move on the issue sooner.
But there are concerns public awareness may not yet be high enough to ensure a successful referendum.
While in Arnhem Land, Mr Abbott visited local businesses, attended a WWII commemoration and handed out attendance awards at the Yirrkala school.
Nhulunbuy is the gateway to north east Arnhem Land, and while remote, it has infrastructure unlike some other indigenous communities.
Mr Marawili would like Mr Abbott to visit more remote communities to experience the difficulties facing many of them.
“They are the ones who are struggling to make a plan and build up jobs for our homelands,” he said.
Mr Abbott was invited to Nhulunbuy by Galarrwuy Yunupingu who said it had been a privilege having the prime minister in the region.
He said there had been firm and honest dialogue.
“A hard and difficult road lies ahead – Aboriginal people remain the most disadvantaged in the area and the issues we face are rarely understood by the general public,” he said.