News24

'Authentic' Aborigines remark sparks storm

2012-11-14 12:00

Sydney - Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott on Wednesday came under fire for remarks in which he said an indigenous lawmaker was an "urban Aboriginal" and urged the election of an "authentic" one.

Abbott, whom Labour Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently accused of being a misogynist in a withering attack that went viral, defended his comments, saying it was important that more Aborigines were elected to parliament.

"Now I am very proud that the first indigenous member of the House of Representatives is Ken Wyatt, who entered the parliament for the Liberal National Party, for our coalition," he said on Tuesday in comments on his website.

"I think it would be terrific if, as well as having an urban Aboriginal in our parliament, we had an Aboriginal person from central Australia, an authentic representative of the ancient cultures of central Australia."

But Wyatt, whose mother was a member of the "stolen generation" of Aboriginal people taken from their families and raised in most cases in religious-run institutions, said Abbott's comments "don't help".

"It's just unfortunate we've got this whole debate going around authentic Aboriginals because Aboriginal people, doesn't matter where they live, are authentic," he told a Perth radio station.

No stranger to gaffes

"All of us are proud of our heritage. It doesn't matter where we live."

Abbott said on Wednesday there had been some "very misleading reporting" of his comments, which sparked a rush of tweets under the hash tag #triedtobeauthenticbut.

Wits used the phrase to joke that they tried to be authentic Aborigines but "the cops fined me for nudity and now I have to go to court", or the "last thing I speared was a kebab".

Another said: "Absolutely gobsmacked at Abbott's comments re 'urban' and 'authentic' Aborigines. You are an absolute disgrace."

Abbott is no stranger to gaffes, once admitting his unscripted remarks were not to be trusted, and another time making the unguarded comment that "sometimes shit happens" when discussing the death of a soldier while visiting troops in Afghanistan.

Aborigines, whose cultures stretch back tens of thousands of years, are believed to have numbered around one million at the time of British settlement, but there are now just 470 000 out of a total population of 22 million.

They have become Australia's most disadvantaged minority.