FORMER Labor Party national president Warren Mundine (picture above from ABC dreambox) is poised to assume a powerful position in Indigenous affairs under a conservative government after forging an extraordinary alliance with Tony Abbott that he declared was “bigger than partisan politics”.
The Opposition Leader – who has pledged to place indigenous affairs directly under his control in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet if elected – has been grooming Mr Mundine for months as a key adviser and is likely to offer an executive position to the former Labor stalwart if a Coalition government is elected, The Weekend Australian can reveal.
Mr Mundine, who quit the Labor Party six months ago, has endorsed Mr Abbott’s vision for Aboriginal Australia and confirmed he stands ready to serve a future prime minister in the quest to end indigenous disparity, regardless of that leader’s political stripe.
“If the Prime Minister offers me a job I would seriously consider it and possibly take it,” he said. “I will walk with anyone who is going to help us as a nation achieve the outcomes that we need to achieve for all Australians. And I don’t care what politics they are.
Mr Mundine, who resigned last month as chief executive of GenerationOne, stressed he had a record of serving prime ministers of both political persuasions, including John Howard, as a member of the National Indigenous Council, and Kevin Rudd, on the National Indigenous Housing Advisory Council.
The nature of any future role for him remains in negotiation but is likely to be an advisory role rather than a departmental one.
Mr Abbott has vowed if elected to remove indigenous affairs from the mega-department of Families, Housing, Communities and Indigenous Affairs and instead place it under his own control as a “Prime Minister for Aboriginal Australia”.
A spokesman for Mr Abbott yesterday declared Mr Mundine was “a remarkable leader”, but said he was not in a position to clarify any potential role for the former Labor Party national president.
“We are not getting ahead of ourselves in any way and no such decision has been made. However, Tony does believe that Warren Mundine is a remarkable leader,” the spokesman said.
Mr Mundine, 56, let his ALP membership lapse last year after becoming disillusioned with Labor’s failure to recruit an indigenous representative in parliament.
Mr Mundine was passed over by the Labor Party last year for a NSW Senate spot vacated by his close friend Mark Arbib in favour of now-foreign minister, and former NSW premier, Bob Carr.
Julia Gillard subsequently recruited former Olympian Nova Peris to contest the September election as the party’s Senate candidate for the Northern Territory.
Mr Mundine, who started his career as a fitter and turner and rose to become the head of a native title corporation, served as Labor Party national president in 2006 and 2007.
His steadfast view that commercial development offered the only chance for indigenous communities to escape poverty has long stood in opposition to the rights-based agenda of the Labor Left.
But an Abbott government promised a return to the Hawke-Keating model of leadership, offering a vision in indigenous affairs which Aboriginal people could share, Mr Mundine told The Weekend Australian.
“One thing I have noticed about Tony, unlike the government, is that he has actually grown. You could see him grow in his thinking, while I think the government is looking tired,” Mr Mundine said.
“I think we are coming very much closer together on a number of issues.
“The paradigms have shifted. The paradigms of the past have been we treated indigenous affairs from a social welfare point of view.
“We took the view that they needed to be helped and that they were sacred koalas in a sense. What we expected from white people in Australia we didn’t expect from indigenous people.
“And all we’ve done in that process is lock a lot of Aboriginal kids up and tried to turn a blind eye to the glaring social issues within those communities – violence against women, sexual violence against children, alcohol issues, the non-existence of almost any commercial activity, the lack of school attendance.”
Mr Mundine has been talking to Mr Abbott for years, but a friendship between the two men blossomed in 2008 when Mr Mundine was asked by Jenny Macklin to negotiate with Mr Abbott over the reintroduction of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory.
“I bitterly disagreed with his Tory politics in the beginning,” Mr Mundine said.
“And what has happened with him, and also with me, we’ve actually both grown in this area about how we approach indigenous affairs.
“We don’t isolate indigenous affairs from the wider Australian community. We see indigenous people as Australians, part of the economy of Australia and part of the social fabric of Australia.
“What Australians expect to be done in a non-indigenous community they should expect to be done in an indigenous community. We always condemn people in the past for putting indigenous people on the fringe, and putting them in reserves. What we have essentially done is repeated that.
“We’ve put them on the fringe economically and socially, educationally and health-wise, with good intentions. But the outcomes have been the same. In fact, the outcomes are worse.”