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Australia's Abbott Calls Aboriginal Communities a 'Lifestyle Choice'

FILE - Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks to the media during a press conference at the conclusion of the G-20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is coming under criticism after he lamented what he called the "lifestyle choices" of the country's remote indigenous community.

Abbott made the comments Tuesday in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in which he defended his plan to shut down up to 150 Aboriginal communities.

The conservative prime minister said that if people wanted to live in remote locations, as many Aborigines do, "there's a limit to what you can expect the state to do for you."
"What we can't do is endlessly subsidize lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have," he said.

The comments drew a sharp rebuke from many Australian politicians and analysts, including Warren Mundine, the prime minister's own chief adviser on Aboriginal affairs.

"It is not about a lifestyle, it is not like retiring and moving for a sea change, it is about thousands of years connection, their religious beliefs and the essence of who they are," Mundine told local media.

Australia's Aboriginal population, which has lived on the continent for at least 40,000 years, is severely disadvantaged in comparison to the rest of the country's citizens.

Many indigenous residents live in remote settlements, where persistent problems include a lack of proper education, as well as high unemployment and prison rates.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Abbott defended his remarks, telling a Sydney radio station that he was only being "realistic."

"If you and I choose to live in a very remote place to what extent is the taxpayer obliged to subsidize our services? Now I think this is a very real question," Abbott said.

He also said it is "incredibly difficult for the kids to go to school, if there's only half a dozen of them, and getting teachers there is all but impossible."

Australia has about 670,000 indigenous people, just under three percent of the population. Most of Australia's residents are descendants of those who came from Britain, which first started a settlement in Australia in 1788.

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