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VIOLENT PROTESTS WON’T SOLVE ISSUES OF CONCERN

January 30, 2012

The irony of targeting Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to highlight concerns over the treatment of Aboriginals was undoubtedly lost on the many ‘professional protestors’ who participated in the shameful Australia Day scenes in Canberra.

Mr Abbott is one of the few Federal MPs who has shown a personal commitment to improving the lives of indigenous people and has regularly travelled to remote locations to work alongside community leaders on projects that have made a practical difference.

If the protestors thought they could boost community support for their cause by threatening our nation’s senior political leaders, they were sadly mistaken. Their actions on Australia Day, followed by the burning of the Australian flag, will have disappointed and angered many Australians.

While it was a mistake by the protestors to target Mr Abbott, it was also a national embarrassment to see our Prime Minister forced to scurry to her vehicle, surrounded by protective services officers. Regardless of anyone’s personal views about Julia Gillard, the office of Prime Minister demands our respect and the protestors would be better off focusing on intelligent dialogue and on the ground programs to improve the lives of the people they claimed to represent.

Of course they have a right to protest but nothing good will come from threats of violence and aggressive behaviour.

It is one of the greatest features of our democracy that elected leaders can move freely around our communities with minimal security concerns. That accessibility allows MPs to talk directly and listen to people who are affected by the decisions we make. If security concerns begin to limit that accessibility, our democracy will suffer.

As for the key issues facing Aboriginal communities, I have spoken in Parliament about the need to work on practical reconciliation, not meaningless gestures and feelgood statements.

The health, education and economic issues facing Aboriginal people are not limited to remote locations in the Northern Territory. We have significant issues in regional communities including East Gippsland and there are some outstanding community leaders who are working hard to address the appalling differences in life expectancy, serious health issues, domestic violence, lack of education and poor employment outcomes.

Improving the health of young indigenous people, making sure they learn new skills at school which can help them to gain employment and respecting each other’s cultures are fundamental to improving their lot in life.

There’s a lot more work to be done but progress has been made and there are many excellent Aboriginal role models in our region who recognise the need to take responsibility for their own future and are achieving great success.

Passive welfare doesn’t work and disadvantaged people need a helping hand, not a handout.

Governments of all political persuasions have tried to address these difficult social and economic issues with varying levels of success. But it does take time and it requires local ownership and local solutions to many of the problems. There is genuine bipartisanship among many MPs and throughout our local community to find practical ways to help the Aboriginal community.

It will be done by working together in a true spirit of reconciliation, rather than violent protests which further divide the nation and achieve nothing for Aboriginal people.

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