West Australian Liberal MP Dennis Jensen has lashed out at remote Indigenous communities, saying taxpayers shouldn't fund the "noble savage" lifestyle.
Jensen made the comments in a speech to parliament during debate over a bill to release funds for government programs.
"We allow our Aboriginal Australians to live in situations—and we support these situations financially—that we would support with nobody else," Jensen said.
The MP said he agreed with former prime minister Tony Abbott, who once called the decision by some Indigenous Australians to live in remote communities a "lifestyle choice", that the government should not be responsible for funding.
"The taxpayers of Australia should not be funding lifestyle choices. Yes, I agree with the former Prime Minister... when he refers to Indigenous Australians' choice to live in remote communities as 'a lifestyle choice'," he said.
Jensen then referred to Aboriginal Australians in remote communities as living a "noble savage" lifestyle.
"In essence, if the 'noble savage' lifestyle... is true, then there is nothing stopping any Indigenous men or women from pursuing such an existence on their own. Just do not expect the taxpayers to subsidise it," he said, before referring to the "noble savage" lifestyle as "nasty, brutish and short".
Jensen said government funds should be spent on health and education, rather than maintaining "lifestyle choices".
"In Aboriginal affairs, there is a preoccupation with things that do not deliver economic development , such as welfare and government programs, services and grants. All of these centre on government dependency," he said.
"Cashless welfare and income management, for example, may tackle social issues but they do not help people to get a job, buy a home or get a loan."
Last year, then-prime minister Tony Abbott came under fire when he called living in remote communities a lifestyle choice.
“What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have,” he told ABC Radio.
“In order to get kids to school and adults to work, you’ve got to have a school. If people choose to live miles away from where there’s a school, if people choose not to access the school of the air, if people choose to live where there’s no jobs, obviously it’s very, very difficult to close the gap.”
At the time, the leader of the PM’s Indigenous advisory council Warren Mundine said that Tony Abbott was wrong.
“That is a complete misconception of what it is and he’s wrong in that regard,” Mr Mundine told Fairfax Media.
“It is not about a lifestyle, it is not like retiring and moving for a sea change, it is about thousands of years of connection, their religious beliefs and the essence of who they are.”
His concerns were echoed by Indigenous leaders across WA. The chairman of Djarindji community Brian Lee said “For our people, it’s an obligation to your ancestors to look after your country and you have to be on your country to look after it.
“You can’t do that from the city or towns that are hundreds of kilometres away from where you live.”
Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Rob Stott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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