The comments, featured in an article by the Australian newspaper, have exposed a deepening rift within the ALP’s hierarchy, with Mr Mundine calling on Labor’s Indigenous Affairs spokesman, Kim Carr, to take a harder line.

“I think the (Howard government) is taking the right direction,” Mr Mundine told the Australian.

“What I say to Kim is what is human rights abuse” Isn’t a man flogging his wife with a stick human rights abuse? What about these poor women?”

“People who say it is paternalistic don’t understand. People are stuck and trapped and they need a drastic and radical change,” Mr Mundine was quoted as saying.

Mr Mundine, who is also a member of the federal government’s newly appointed advisory body, the National Indigenous Council, has urged federal Labor adopt a new approach.

“We are being touchy-feely and nice and politically correct, but what we have created through the last 30 years has failed.”

What Mr Mundine prescribes instead is bi-partisan backing for the government’s shared-responsibility stance where communities sign up to agreements to receive assistance based on a commitment to change certain behaviours.

It is part of the government’s renewed drive to stamp out what it has labelled as ‘passive wlefarism’ in indigenous communities.

New South Wales Labor MP Linda Burney, also a prominent indigenous figure, told the newspaper she disputed Mr Mundine’s position.

“I find the fact that Warren is having these discussions (with the media) to be baffling, to say the least,” Ms Burney said.

“He was part of the (Labor) national conference that actually decided the party platform. It is anything but touchy-feely.”

Mr Mundine has already come under fire from indigenous leaders in the past week for arguing that changes must be made to indigenous land rights to boost economic development in indigenous communities.

His call for a rethink of communal land ownership drew stinging criticism from leading indigenous spokesman, Mick Dodson, who said Mr Mundine had “no comprehension of what land means to people or how it’s held”.

Mr Mundine is set to assume Labor’s national presidency in January 2006 after winning considerable ALP ballot support in a ballot late last year.