Ken Wyatt ‘Up For The Challenge’ Of Indigenous Recognition
Newly appointing Minister for Indigenous Affairs Ken Wyatt said the time has come for Australia to re-examine constitutional recognition of its First Nations.
Speaking to The Project's Waleed Aly on Wednesday night, Wyatt said it was "an interesting challenge", but one he's up for.
"I now know, in talking to the leadership, it was about being heard, having Aboriginal concerns and voices raised," he said.
However, he squashed questions of a potential -- an often floated -- 'third chamber of parliament', saying it would not include a legislative body.
"Not it's not a third chamber, and people may have raised that, but you’ve got to go back and listen to a lot of the people who were at Uluru," Wyatt said.
"They talk about wanting to be heard.
"It might be a legislative body we will examine those in the co-design work, but it's an open page at the moment."
Australians will have the chance to vote on changing the constitution to recognise the nation's first peoples within the next three years.
But Wyatt has stressed the government won't go ahead with a referendum until it's certain it will succeed.
"It will take time, it will need to be measured," Wyatt told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
"We need to design the right model to progress to a point at which the majority of Australians, the majority of states and territories and Indigenous Australians support the model so that it is successful."
Some Australians will never be convinced that constitutional recognition is a good idea, the minister has acknowledged.
"We have to respect that. It is the majority who we need to talk to and have straight discussions," he said.
Convincing voters will rely on showing them details of the proposal, which will be worked out in consultation with Indigenous people, he said.
Wyatt plans to work with parliamentarians from across the political spectrum to develop the model, with Labor's Indigenous spokeswoman Linda Burney to be "integral" to the process.
He's also looking to the 1967 referendum for inspiration, when Australians overwhelmingly voted for changes to the constitution to include Indigenous people in the census and to allow the federal government to create laws for them.
The minister is also committed to bringing about an Indigenous voice to parliament, working alongside state and territory ministers, which may not be enshrined in the constitution.
"The voice is multi-layered and includes the voices of Individuals, families, communities and Indigenous organisations who want to be heard by those who make the decisions that impact on their lives."
The Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017 called for a "First Nations Voice" enshrined in the constitution and the creation of a powerful "Makarrata Commission" of elected elders that would supervise agreement-making between government and Indigenous people.
But the proposal was shot down by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who said the advisory body "would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament".
Wyatt said the coalition partyroom has "moved on substantially" since then, but he'll still need to "bring along colleagues".
His address comes six weeks after the Perth MP became the first Aboriginal person to have ministerial stewardship of Indigenous affairs.
Looking forward to the other issues with which he'll grapple, Wyatt said states and territories must take the lead on achieving treaty with Indigenous people.
Indigenous people must also be better included in policy-making and evaluation, he said.
"Even the most well-intentioned modern policies and programs have still tended to take a top-down, command and control approach," Mr Wyatt said.
"As if Aboriginal people didn't know what they needed or wanted."
He said the establishment of a new National Indigenous Australians Agency on July 1 - which will take the reins of Indigenous policymaking from the department of prime minister and cabinet - is significant.
"It will provide opportunities for growth and advancement in education, employment, suicide prevention, community safety, health and constitutional recognition."
Burney said Labor would work constructively with the government on the issue.
Constitutional change doesn't come easy, she stressed, with only eight out of 44 referendums held to date succeeding.
But the MP is confident the time for change has "well and truly come".
"I honestly believe that the Australian public is ready for constitutional reform to recognise first nations people in the constitution," Burney told reporters in Sydney.