Tony Abbott has drawn criticism for calling WA Liberal backbencher Ken Wyatt an "urban Aboriginal" while saying Parliament should embrace an "authentic" indigenous MP from Central Australia.
The Opposition Leader made the comment yesterday when asked to explain why he told a Country Liberal Party dinner in Alice Springs at the weekend that Mr Wyatt was a good bloke but "not a man of culture".
Mr Abbott went to Alice Springs in a failed bid to convince indigenous Country Liberal Party MP Alison Anderson to contest the Northern Territory seat of Lingiari, held by Federal Indigenous, Rural and Regional Health Minister Warren Snowdon.
"I would love to think that a highly traditional Australian Aboriginal, who is nevertheless charismatic and inspirational in modern Australia as well, might enter the Federal Parliament," Mr Abbott said yesterday.
"I think it would be terrific if, as well as having an urban Aboriginal in our Parliament, we had an Aboriginal person from Central Australia, an authentic representative of the ancient cultures of Central Australia in the Parliament."
Mr Wyatt, whose mother Mona was one of the Stolen Generation, has Noongar, Yamatji and Wongi heritage.
He is the first indigenous MP in the House of Representatives and wore a coat of kangaroo pelts elders presented to him for his maiden speech in 2010.
State Labor MP Ben Wyatt, Mr Wyatt's nephew, said Mr Abbott's comments were offensive and demeaning of his uncle, who was an Aboriginal leader in WA.
"These sorts of comments about different levels of Aboriginality echo the 1905 Aborigines Act of WA - legislation that saw so-called 'half caste' Aboriginal children taken from their families," he said.
"I am staggered that Tony Abbott would think there are different levels of Aboriginality and that he thinks an Aboriginal who lives in the city or suburbs is bereft of culture."
Ken Wyatt released a statement saying Mr Abbott had contacted him on Monday concerned that comments attributed to him did not accurately convey the common goal to increase indigenous representation in Parliament.
"I have always believed that a diversity of backgrounds among our members of Parliament provides the strongest and best outcome for the Australian community," Mr Wyatt said. "In all indigenous Australians, our culture is the essence of who we are, our geographic location is what distinguishes us."
WA Liberal MP Mal Washer said he had known Mr Wyatt for more than 30 years and greatly admired his extensive work in Aboriginal health, education and social policy in WA and NSW.
"You don't have to live in the centre of the desert to comprehend the people or their problems and Ken is certainly able to do that," Dr Washer said.