Social inclusion of Indigenous people and the closure of remote Australian communities was widely debated on the ABC’s Q&A panel on Monday night.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott in March angered Indigenous leaders when he backed a plan in Western Australia to close more than 100 remote communities and move more than 1,000 people, saying “what we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices”.
The Opposition demanded he apologise, but Mr Abbott defended his use of the term, saying he was “making a pretty obvious point”.
Speaking on the panel on Monday night, Regional Australia Institute CEO Su McCluskey agreed that the PM used a “poor choice of words”, and that for a lot of the people living remotely is “not about lifestyle, it’s about place”.
Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure Alannah MacTiernan chimed in saying “white fellas have to stop telling black fellas how to live their lives”, causing a sombre Q&A crowd to erupt in applause.
But Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield said the Commonwealth Government was not closing down remote communities, but passing the responsibility to the state (WA) government.
“For over 30 years this has been a Commonwealth responsibility,” Ms MacTiernan replied.
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) April 13, 2015
Metadata laws, freedom of the fourth estate and terrorism were also discussed by the panel, which included Al Jazeera foreign correspondent Peter Greste and NITV News executive producer Malarndirri McCarthy.
Mr Greste was recently released after 400 days in an Egyptian prison for allegedly speaking with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
He suggested a benchmark needed to be set for journalists and governments to understand when reporters might cross into illegal territory.
“Journalists aren’t always saints,” Ms MacTiernan said.
Mr Greste replied: “I’m not suggesting journalists are saints, I’m suggesting a benchmark for both media and governments.”
“A free press can be good and bad – but an unfree press can never be anything but bad.”
First Nation people survived here for over 50,000 yrs without the problems they have now. Who are we to say how they live? #qanda
— Despi O’Connor (@despioconnor) April 13, 2015