SYDNEY: Australian conservative leader Tony Abbott pledged Saturday to spend one week every year in a remote indigenous community if elected, saying he wanted to be the "prime minister for Aboriginal affairs".
Abbott said he wanted to make Australia's most disadvantaged minority his top priority were he to win national elections on September 7, unveiling a new policy to promote private ownership of some communal Aboriginal land.
"It is all very well having the right to live on your land, having the right to walk over your land, having the right if necessary to exclude people from your land," Abbott told a community meeting in Nhulunbuy, part of central Australia's Arnhem Land.
"But land has to be an economic asset as well as a spiritual asset, and I will do whatever I humanly can in government to bring this about."
Abbott said he wanted to be the "prime minister for Aboriginal affairs" and described the gulf between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians as a "lack of engagement".
He pledged to spend one week of every year living in a remote community, starting with Nhulunbuy, and said he would bring responsibility for Aboriginal issues into the prime minister's department, also appointing a former heavyweight from the rival Labor party, Warren Mundine, to spearhead his efforts.
As well as private ownership of land Mundine flagged an end to the system of permits issued by Aboriginal custodians governing access to cultural lands in order to attract development and jobs under an Abbott administration.
Of his annual plan to stay in an Aboriginal settlement, Abbott said: "I know there will be people who say you can't do that, you're goofing off, you're not doing your job.
"The fact is if these places are home to the first Australians why shouldn't they be home to the prime minister of our country?"
Abbott also pledged a referendum on recognising Aborigines in the constitution within his first year in office -- a policy proposed by Labor but shelved earlier this year due to lack of community engagement.
In an interview with The Australian newspaper ahead of his policy announcement Abbott likened some impoverished Aboriginal communities to "Somalia without guns".
Abbott's conservatives launched a controversial military-led intervention to tackle pornography, alcohol and child abuse in central Australia's remote Aboriginal communities when they were last in office, and resisted a national apology to the nation's original inhabitants for wrongs committed since British settlement in 1788.
Several conservative lawmakers walked out of parliament when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd went on to deliver such an apology -- an historic moment in race relations in Australia -- upon taking office in 2008.
Aborigines, the most disadvantaged Australians, are believed to have numbered around one million at the time of British settlement.
There are now just 470,000 out of a total population of 23 million, and they suffer disproportionate levels of disease, imprisonment and social problems as well as significantly lower education, employment and life expectancy.
Rudd welcomed Abbott's appointment of Mundine, who he described as a personal friend, and said tackling indigenous issues ought to be above politics.
"We are judged by the rest of the world on these questions and rightly so, and we will be judged by our children as to whether we have got this right," he said.
At the time of the 2008 apology Labor launched national "Closing the Gap" targets on health, education, mortality and imprisonment, with progress reported annually to parliament. Moderate improvement has been seen on some measures.