The Prime Minister Tony Abbott has faced a barrage of harsh criticism over his treatment of Indigenous Australians living in the nation’s many remote communities. Previously, Mr. Abbott claimed that living in a remote community was a ‘lifestyle choice’, one that had to be tempered by an all-seeing federal government. Other discriminatory measures include the stifling of access to alcohol and plans to trial a cashless welfare card. Now, the PM has had to quash reports that his government was moving towards a ban on Vegemite.
The sandwich spread, which is synonymous with Australian culture, is apparently being used as the basis for a kind of home-brewed alcohol. This seemingly anecdotal development has prompted concerns among conservative members and cabinet ministers intent on policing each and every move within remote communities.
In a statement to the media, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion vowed to fight the spread of Vegemite. “Addiction of any type is a concern but communities, especially where alcohol is banned, must work to ensure home brewing of this type does not occur,” Mr. Scullion wrote. “Businesses in these communities also have a responsibility to report any purchase that may raise their own suspicions.”
Referring to reports in Brisbane newspapers that Vegemite was being used to brew large quantities of alcohol in bathtubs, the Minister seemed unperturbed by the implications for social freedom and liberty. Quickly, the PM sought to correct his errant Minister’s proclamation.
“This is a deregulatory Government and the last thing I want to do is to have a Vegemite watch … because Vegemite, quite properly, is for most people a reasonably nutritious spread on your morning toast or on your sandwiches,” Mr. Abbott explained. “What’s important is that we ensure that remote communities, all communities, are being properly policed.”
The Liberal Party, with its long history of championing the rights of individual and personal liberty, has seemingly stumbled into yet another culture-defining interlude with the nation’s oldest culture. But this time, it seems Mr. Abbott is unwilling to kick the hornet’s nest.
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