Abbott and co roll up sleeves for remote community

Leading by example... Tony Abbott with children in Aurukun yesterday.
Leading by example... Tony Abbott with children in Aurukun yesterday.

A WEEKEND of toil for a handful of Australia's leading business figures might just be a metaphor for rising to the challenge of closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia.

The transformation of a dilapidated building into a state-of-the art library in one of the country's more remote indigenous communities is a demonstration of what can be achieved when people of goodwill focus their time, energy and intellect on a common goal.

''Yesterday it didn't look very pretty. Tomorrow it's going to be magnificent,'' Cape York indigenous leader, Richie Ahmat, said. ''Just imagine what the whole of Australia could do if the same energy was applied in every indigenous community.''

''I guess it just shows what you can do with enough focus of attention,'' the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said. He helped conceive the idea of a kind of corporate Backyard Blitz at Aurukun and invited the likes of NAB chairman, Michael Chaney, retailer Gerry Harvey and Wesfarmers' Richard Goyder to come along.

It is an unlikely preparation for what promises to be a brutal spring session of Parliament, but that is because Mr Abbott sees nothing particularly special about the session that resumes on Tuesday.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, might be sensing an opportunity to turn a tentative comeback in the polls into a recovery but Mr Abbott promises just more of the same.

''It will be another week where the government doesn't have any answers on border protection; another week where they try to justify the indefensible on their carbon tax,'' Mr Abbott told The Sun-Herald during break from cutting and laying carpet yesterday.

While both sides of politics agree on the importance of tackling passive welfare in remote communities, Mr Abbott exudes quiet confidence that he will bring more horsepower to the area and consequently achieve quicker and more lasting results.

''I'd like to think that over time, by continuing my hands-on engagement with remote indigenous Australia, I can help to focus real attention as opposed to mere notional and distracted attention on these issues. Now, I don't say the problems of remote indigenous communities are solvable in a year or even a decade. But I think in a generation they are substantially addressable.''

Mr Abbott is acutely aware that indigenous issues tend to slip down the list of national priorities when big calls need to be made but he says his intention to spend a week volunteering in a remote community once a year if he becomes prime minister will ensure that indigenous policy development remains a focus.

He does not rule out asking the Productivity Commission, or a similar body, to examine the dramatic progress that has been achieved in Cape York schools in the past two years and see if it has national application.

''I'm not saying that what's happening here in Cape York is instantly reproducable elsewhere but I think there are lots of good lessons.''

Mr Abbott is also confident that Noel Pearson, who is in remission after treatment for cancer, will remain a powerful voice for change in the area.

''Noel has been a great prophet for our times and I want him to continue to be a great prophet for our times.''

The shared confidence of the business figures that there are grounds for optimism is reflected in their conversations as they assembled the book shelves.

''Are we getting there, mate?'' Mr Ahmat asked.

''We're getting good at it,'' came the reply from Mr Chaney.

This story Abbott and co roll up sleeves for remote community first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.