Abbott vows to 'engage' with Aborigines

AAP Ninemsn 15 March 2013

Tony Abbott says a coalition government would have a "new engagement" with indigenous affairs, including constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people as the first Australians.

Speaking in Sydney, Mr Abbott said indigenous affairs will be a priority and focus for a coalition government if it's elected to govern at September's federal election.

"I want a new engagement with Aboriginal people to be one of the hallmarks of an incoming coalition government - and this will start from day one," he told a Sydney Institute function.

Mr Abbott said in the first 12 months of taking office the coalition would seek bipartisan support to amend the constitution to acknowledge indigenous Australians.

"An acknowledgment of Aboriginal people as the first Australians would complete our constitution rather than change it," he told the audience, which included NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell and indigenous leader Warren Mundine.

Mr Abbott said a constitutional amendment meant people would know that Aboriginal people "will never be regarded as just a historical footnote to modern Australia".

"Done well, such an amendment could be a unifying and liberating moment," he said.

He also said a coalition government would handle indigenous affairs within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

"This means that along with Nigel Scullion as minister, there will be, in effect, a prime minister for Aboriginal affairs," Mr Abbott said.

He committed to address "deep disadvantage" in indigenous Australia by visiting remote Aboriginal communities each year, as well as by getting doctors and teachers to take longer postings in communities.

A coalition government would also expand an indigenous job program to fund job-training trials developed by Andrew Forrest and Warren Mundine, he said.

Mr Abbott promised there were "better days to come" for indigenous affairs.

"Should the coalition win the election, Aboriginal people will be at the heart of a new government, in word and in deed," Mr Abbott said.

Earlier on Friday, Mr Abbott adopted the words of former Labor prime minister Paul Keating, saying the state of indigenous Australians constitutes a "stain on our soul".

"We certainly have to do it better in the future than we have done it in the past," he told ABC radio.

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