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11 March 2015

Rolf de Heer slams Tony Abbott over 'lifestyle choice' comments on remote Aboriginal communities

Extraordinary ... director Rolf de Heer on the set of Charlie's Country.

Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer has lashed out at Prime Minister Tony Abbott for saying that indigenous Australians live in remote communities because of "lifestyle choices".

Speaking after the Aboriginal drama Charlie's Country won best film and best director at the Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards in Sydney, the director of such acclaimed indigenous dramas as The Tracker and Ten Canoes described the comment as "offensive".

Winner at the Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards ... David Gulpilil in Charlie's Country.

"It's so inappropriate that it's laughable," de Heer told Fairfax Media after the awards. "It shows such ignorance that he has no right to be the prime minister of Australia."

De Heer said he had read shortly before the awards a report that Mr Abbott, in backing a WA government plan to close up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities, said it was not the taxpayer's job to subsidise people's "lifestyle choices".

The ABC has reported that Mr Abbott, speaking in Kalgoorlie, said it was up to the state to decide what services it would deliver and where.

"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,"
"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.

"It is not unreasonable for the State Government to say if the cost of providing services in a particular remote location is out of all proportion to the benefits being delivered, fine by all means live in a remote location, but there's a limit to what you can expect the state to do for you if you want to live there."

A fired up De Heer said that to make those comments about the residents of remote communities was "profoundly misunderstanding" of Aboriginal culture and economic reality.

"It's hypocritical that our Prime Minister pretends to be the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and has so little understanding of what it is to be on country and that there is no choice involved," he said.

"There are no jobs so they earn nothing. So they get welfare and they pay twice as much for their food as we do. Welfare is not enough here, let alone there. So they have a choice to move somewhere else?"

De Heer said Gulpilil, the acclaimed actor whose struggles with alcohol, drugs and the law inspired the fictional central character in Charlie's Country, had been forced to live in Murray Bridge outside Adelaide.

"He can't afford to live in Darwin and somebody will put him up in Murray Bridge. That's a lifestyle choice? Yeah. Thank you Mr Abbott."