National Press Club Address - 'Walking in Partnership to Effect Change'

Release Date: 
10 July 2019

Sabra Lane: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the National Press Club of Australia and today's Westpac Address. My name is Sabra Lane and I'm the club's president.

It is my pleasure in NAIDOC Week to announce that the first Aboriginal minister for, and the new Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, has decided to make his first major speech of the portfolio here at National Press Club.

If you're following the conversation online, you can do so - our Twitter user handle is at press club AUST and use the hashtag, NPC. Everybody, please join me in welcoming Ken Wyatt.

Ken Wyatt: Kaya Wangju. I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians on the land on which we're meeting today, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people.

I want to acknowledge other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today and all who have joined us and those watching at home.

I also acknowledge Sabra Lane and the National Press Club for inviting me to speak today.

Our cultural heritage is at the essence of who we are. It shapes our thinking, our customs, our social interactions and how we see ourselves as a specific group.

Our blood lines and our ancient songlines have provided the continuity of connections as individuals, families and communities throughout time.

This is also evident in multicultural Australia where we see societies reflected in their societies and multicultural events that they celebrate.

NAIDOC Week celebrates over 60,000 years of history, culture and achievements of Indigenous Australians. It commences on the first Sunday in July until the following Sunday each year.

The origin of NAIDOC arose from a letter Mr. William Cooper wrote on behalf of the Australian Aborigine group, to Aboriginal church groups and elders. Each year, NAIDOC gives prominent substance to create awareness and celebrate success, and is an acknowledgement of further work that has to be completed.

Some of the past themes have included:

  • In 2018, Because Of Her, We Can.
  • No 2006, Respect the Past, Believe the Future.

The theme for 2019 is - Voice, Treaty Truth.

The concept of the voice in the Uluru Statement from the Heart is not just a singular voice, and what I perceive it is - it is a cry to all tiers of Government to stop and listen to the voices of Indigenous Australians at all levels.

The voice is multilayered and includes voices of individuals, families, communities and Indigenous organisations who want to be heard by those who make the decisions that impact on their lives of Indigenous Australians at all levels.

The voice is multilayered and includes voices of individuals, families, communities and Indigenous organisations who want to be heard by those who make the decisions that impact on their lives.

All they want is for governments to hear their issues, stories and their matters associated with their land, their history. They're asking the three tiers of government to stop and take the time to listen to their voices.

The development of a local, regional and national voice will be achieved.

It is my intention to work with state and territory ministers to develop an approach underpinned with existing jurisdictional organisations and advisory structures that they have established to advise state and territory governments. But importantly, Indigenous Australian people and leaders are integral to the process, and will be equally involved.

The national interest requires the new relationship with Indigenous Australians based on their participants and establishing partnerships at the community and regional levels.

My regional managers of the new agency will be required to make this happen.

I'll turn to the matters of Treaty and constitutional recognition later.

In the address to Welcome to Country ceremony at the opening of the 46th Parliament, the Prime Minister made the following comments, which I have used selectively, to highlight the changing attitude of our nation.

And I cite, "Here, 65,000 years of Aboriginal culture meets mere centuries of Westminster tradition, which the Leader of the Opposition and I represent and bring here together." In my maiden speech to Parliament, I said that a strong country is at peace with its past. This is a work in progress. Being at peace with our past, being at one with our past, while we reflect on how far we have to go - consider how far we've come. "This year, my Government appointed Ken Wyatt as the first ever Aboriginal person to hold the position of Minister for Indigenous Australians and as a member of Cabinet."

But prior to that, the Sunday following the election was National Sorry Day. My wife, Anna, read a Facebook post that the honorable Ben Wyatt, WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, had posted about his father, Cedric. His father spent a lot of his life in ‘Sister Kate's’ and after being born at Moore River, a native settlement, he moved there.

I reflected on my mother and her siblings who spent the early lives in missions separated from each other, but remained optimistic that the future would yield better outcomes for us, their children.

My thoughts were interrupted with Anna saying “Can you hang out the washing and don't forget to take your phone with you in case the Prime Minister you and offers you a job."

I was hanging up a tablecloth on the Hills Hoist clothes line when the phone rang and the Prime Minister's name came up.

I answered the phone with, "Good morning, Prime Minister." I thought that he was offering me my previous portfolio.

Instead, he said, "I want to thank you for your support for senior Australians, the work in the aged-care sector and Indigenous health. I would like to offer you the position of Minister for Indigenous Australians".

His statement absolutely stunned me. Not Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, but Minister for Indigenous Australians.

Two thoughts ran through my mind. The Prime Minister has focused on Indigenous Australians, which gives a personal and human value to our people, and secondly, an increased scope of work. Combined with his expectations of what he wants to achieve as leader of our Government.

I admit that I choked with emotion at the honor and the magnitude of expectation that would come with being Minister for Indigenous Australians.

It took me a full two minutes to answer him. In those two minutes, the emotions of our story, as Indigenous Australians, welled up in me. It's hard to express what I actually felt and what it meant to me at the time.

The Prime Minister said, "I take it by your silence, you're saying yes?" Then I found my voice and said, "Yes, Prime Minister, I accept."

Anna had heard the phone ring and saw the expression on my face and she had assumed that I had been advised of a death in the family. She came closer to hear whose voice it was. She could hear the Prime Minister's voice and then she understood that he had offered me the position of Minister for Indigenous Australians.

We both knew from that moment, the enormity of the job, but equally, the importance of the symbolism for Australia.

We must never forget the significance of symbolism, but it must be balanced with pragmatism that results in change for Indigenous Australians.

And I want to acknowledge the Prime Minister's leadership in establishing the National Indigenous Australians Agency. With the establishment of the agency on July 1, we began a new era for Government to work in partnership with Indigenous Australians.

It will provide opportunities for growth and advancement, in education, employment, suicide prevention, community safety, health and constitutional recognition. There is still more to do to find local solutions to make a difference at the community level.

Historically, Indigenous Australians have been told what they're going to get, what's going to happen, whether they like it or no. The agency will play a critical role in supporting me to meet the changing needs of Indigenous Australians.

I will work in partnership with state and territory ministers of Indigenous affairs to progress work on the Closing the Gap targets. And identify good practice and to share and celebrate successful programs and jurisdictional achievements.

As ministers, collectively, we have an incredible opportunity to make a difference as leaders of the nation if we work together on targeted priorities such as the high incarceration rates. As I've said, the most important thing that I and the agency will do is to listen - with our ears and our eyes.

I intend to have genuine conversations - not only with Indigenous leaders and peak bodies, but with families, individuals and community organisations, so I can hear their voices and work together to agree to a way forward for a better future for our children.

To me, a child in a remote community is just as important as a state or national leader. I want to encourage minister, assistant ministers and as many members of the Australian Parliament as possible to become familiar with Indigenous organisations, communities and families, to identify the issues that governments need to become aware of, and ultimately work towards finding solutions.

Outside Government, I want to work with the corporate sector of Australia. I'm asking them to sit down with me around board tables and around campfires and discuss how they can contribute to the future for the next generation.

A week after I was sworn in, I receive Adler from Jennifer Westacott assuring me that the Business Council stood ready to work with me to ensure that Australia's first peoples share in the same economic and social opportunities as every other Australian.

She invited me to sit down with them at GARMA this year to talk about how the business sector can best work with Government to build prosperity in Indigenous communities. That's a great start to a working relationship that can really drive change.

It's not my intention to develop policy out of my office. But to implement a co-designed process with my ministerial and parliamentary colleagues, relevant departments and with Indigenous communities, organisations and leaders.

I am charged with developing enhanced local and regional decision making through expanding empowered communities and other regional governance models I want to see our elder and younger people involved in decision making about what is important in their lives.

Without that local and regional engagement, our efforts won't succeed and opportunities to make a difference will be lost. I'll be expecting my agency to implement a co-design approach whereby we'll become partners in the design process and helping reform. That should realise better outcomes.

The model for the way in which I want to do to effect change is premised on Mick Copes, the definition consultation process. That is:

  • Client - to understand the community and the problem.
  • Clarify - to find out what is really going on.
  • Change - to make it happen and sustain that change.
  • Confirm - to make sure that what we put in place has continuity.
  • Close the engagement, but maintain the relationship.

I want us to deal with unanticipated consequences, and keep the momentum for the changes that we're putting into place. We often walk away too soon.

I invite all sides of politics to work with me to ensure that we provide the best supports and services to effect change, and change can be as simple as an incident in Alice Springs when I announced a reading glasses program to people in remote communities.

The ABC asked me to sit with an elder and film the announcement. And they saw a pair of spare glasses in my pocket and they asked me if I would put them on her face so we'd have the visual effect.

When I put them on her face and she looked through the glasses, there was an incredible smile on her face and she said, "I can see. I can see a cameraman, I can see a woman standing with a microphone." And then she said to me, "I can now see the tracks of the lizards that I love." That had a profound impact in terms of something simple making an incredible difference in the life of a woman. She then went away to read a letter that she didn't want read to her!

I'll want to improve mental health outcomes for young people, and implement targeted plan towards zero youth suicide in remote communities. We've all been shocked and grieved by the numbers of Aboriginal people, especially youth, committing suicide. The fact that Aboriginal people are committing suicide at twice the rate of non-Indigenous Australians is one of the gravest and most heart breaking challenges we face. Precious lives that should be full of promise, instead filled with despair and disconnection. We need to address the influence of social and cultural factors if we are to see significant change. More importantly, we need to listen to young people.

The Prime Minister has announced the appointment of Christine Morgan as our new National Suicide Prevention advisor to support this priority.

Ms Morgan with work with the Prime Minister's department and with the Minister for Health to drive a whole of Government approach for an approach to suicide prevention, while ensuring that prevention services are there when needed and communities supported.

The allocation of $500 million for youth suicide prevention, also has $34 million for Indigenous youth suicide prevention. We need to get the services right - to the right people through our reach and front-line services with tools like mental health first aid kit.

Young people in the Kimberley made it clear that suicides don't happen between 9-5, but often when the services are not accessible.

They suggest that organisations funded for mental health and suicide services consider after-hours services to enable youth to access support when they need it in times of crisis - not a telephone line.

Constitutional recognition - as I mentioned earlier, I will develop and forward a consensus option for constitutional recognition to put to a referendum during the current parliamentary term. That means working through until we reach a point in which there is consensus across all the relevant groups who have a stake in it.

I do not want to proceed if we are not going to be successful. I have commenced the process of engaging and seeking the counsel of Indigenous leaders on the best way forward.

We need to design the right model to progress to a point of which the majority of Australians, the majority of states and territories and Indigenous Australians support the model so that it is successful.

The Morrison Government is committed to recognising Indigenous Australians in the constitution and working to achieve this through a process of true co-design. Constitutional recognition is too important.

And I don’t want to rush it, because when I consider the successful 1967 referendum, it was as a result of tireless advocacy and an extraordinary nationwide momentum for change. If we want to see that kind of national consensus again, we need to be thorough and we need to take time to get it right. We have allocated $7.3 million for a co-design process to improve local and regional decision making, and an additional $160 million has been set aside for a future referendum once the model has been determined.

I plan to establish a working group of Parliamentary colleagues of all political persuasions to assist me in considering the role of engaging on many levels to bring forward a community model.

The Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Linda Burney, will be integral to that process.

The constitutional recognition work is unfinished. It will take time. It will need to be measured, and I would certainly ask for media to play its part in influencing conversations that we need to have around kitchen tables and at BBQs.

In truth-telling, I will work on approaches to work on how we progress towards truth-telling. Without the truth of the past, there can be no agreement on where or who we are in the present, how we arrived here and where we want to go in the future.

A truth-telling process that allows all Australians to reflect on the place of First Nations people and our shared past has to happen at the national state and local levels right across this country.

History is generally written from a dominant society's point of view, and not that of the suppressed. And therefore, true history is brushed aside, masked, dismissed, and in some instances - destroyed.

In recent years, we have seen more open acknowledgement as more evidence emerges of the brutal realities of the past. We need to know what happened to the children raised on missions and in foster homes and their parents.

To see the lasting effect on the way people move through the world decades later. It's now 22 years since the Bringing Them Home Report opened the records of child removals and showed people, for the first time, what happened to Aboriginal families in this country.

We need to hear of the lies that were told. The casual cruelty of the fate they were dealt, and the unthinkable lost in their hearts.

Opening those records was painful for all of us, but it was necessary. It opened hearts and minds. It opened up space in our collective life for understanding, healing and forgiveness. That's what truth does. It sets you free.

Only when we tell the truth, and when we are willing to listen to the truth can we find common ground to walk on. Only then can we begin to trust each other and to walk together side-by-side.

Treaty - with respect to Treaty, it's important that states and territory jurisdictions take the lead. When you consider the constitution, they are better placed to undertake that work. The West Australian land agreement by the Barnett Government is a treaty in the true sense.

Treaty models are evolving with work undertaken by the Victorian and Northern Territory governments which address the aspirations of Indigenous Australians in those jurisdictions, and it's important that it resides and sits there.

Closing the Gap - the Prime Minister has charged me with delivering a revised Closing the Gap target that drives improved outcomes for Indigenous Australians through the Closing the Gap refresh process and arrangements.

In 2018, COAG decided to rebuild it with Indigenous Australians and the Coalition has seen the first ever formal agreement between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people organisations, the Federal Government and states and territories.

This will have profound impacts as we move to the implementation of the Council of Australian Governments Closing the Gap Partnership Agreement.

We will continue to work on Closing the Gap, the gap between the outcomes in health, the mortality and the life expectancy. We'll focus on education, jobs and economic security and other aspects of well-being.

A diverse and disparate geography with service delivery as government providers and businesses navigate the urban, regional and 2,000 remote regional towns.

I want to share with you a phone call of someone I know who was asked to fly to the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, have their plane land at the airport, call a taxi and do a surprise visit on an aged-care facility. Any of you who know those lands know that there is no telephone. You have to buzz over the community with a small flight and then land and wait for someone to pick you up, so there's no element of surprise!

But the point I'm making is - our geographic diversity is a challenge. And there is much that we will need to seriously consider as we do this. In this setting, we are committed to expanding regional mod that give Indigenous Australians a say on real issues that affect them, and real solutions for improved outcomes.

First Australians regularly state that Indigenous organisations deliver stronger outcomes for their people through cultural competence, engagement and community confidence. But equally, we need to ensure Indigenous Australians who choose to use other services, including mainstream services, are a priority of our Government.

Since March this year, the Community Development Program, affectionately known as CDP, has been reformed to ensure that communities have a say in the way that the program is run through the establishment of community advisory boards.

The CDP is delivered by Indigenous organisations with a focus on Indigenous people and communities. I'll work closely with those organisations and local communities to consider the way in which the program can be enhanced. That is to deliver skills and competencies that can translate and are tangible for future employment where opportunities exist.

Around 60% of the Indigenous advancement strategy and Aboriginal Benefit Grant funding is provided to Indigenous organisations - a significant increase from 35% before the introduction of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

We have committed an additional $10 million for the survival and maintenance of traditional Aboriginal languages. This will support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders supporting culturing through national institutions such as the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the National Museum of Australia.

We are also helping our nation to deliver funding to deliver the support that is needed for surviving members of the Stolen Generation, and we'll provide funding to the Healing Foundation to support their work, including a comprehensive needs analysis to better understand the demography of surviving members of the Stolen Generation.

The Morrison Government is committed to expanding the very successful Indigenous Procurement Policy, which includes targets based on the value of contracts awarded, not just the number of contracts granted.

There are 1,951 Indigenous registered and certified businesses registered with Supply Nation. At the recent IBA breakfast last week, we heard that there were over 2,000 Indigenous women who are part of the Strong Women, Strong Business platform.

What was interesting is that some had been knocked back by the IBA for start-up funding. But despite the "no", they persisted and their businesses have grown. Since 2015, more than 1,530 Indigenous businesses have won over 12,600 contracts totaling more than $2.1 billion.

Evaluation is a critical piece of work. It needs to be done to ascertain what works effectively. The Indigenous Advancement Strategy Evaluation Framework is systematically strengthening reporting, monitoring and evaluation at a contract, program and outcome level.

This is a principle task that I know will be undertaken by Romlie Mokak, the first Indigenous Productivity Commissioner appointed to review and report back to government.

We are implementing a framework to ensure high quality ethical and inclusive evaluations will be used to inform for more effective policy and decision making for ongoing improvements of services to ensure that we are making a difference. But even the most well intentioned modern policies and programs have still tended to take a top-down command-and-control approach.

As if Aboriginal people didn't know what they needed or wanted. As if proud members of one of the world's longest lived civilisations have nothing to say - no wisdom to offer - about what would help their families thrive and their communities flourish.

Fred Chaney, former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the Fraser government put it this way, "They were first and they survived. We should listen."

I made this commitment on my first day that I will listen and that I will walk with Aboriginal people as they fine their own paths to health, happiness and success. In finding those paths, we are not looking out on a tracks trackless landscape.

There are tracks and songlines to follow, created by people who have gone before, seeking better lives within their families and communities. We're starting from there.

If we think about the fact that 65% of all Indigenous Australians are under 30 years of age, you'll realise what an enormous difference we can make by investing in their futures. I have never met an Aboriginal parent, who did not want their child to succeed and be happy and healthy and have a better life than we, the earlier generations, had.

There are heroes in every community, who everyday touched the lives of another person. The mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, uncles and aunties who inspire the little ones around them to become like them.

Elders with dignity and pride and grace. Armed with confidence in their culture, they are custodians of hope. I'd like to share a story with you of one of my heroes. Last Saturday, the first statue of an Indigenous AFL footballer was unveiled at the 50th western Derby between West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers at Optus Stadium.

The bronze statue pays tribute to Neil Elvis, Nicky Winmar, a man known for St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs in the AFL, as well as South Fremantle in the WAFL. But also for one of the most famous moments in Australian sport.

After the final siren in Round 4, the Saints' win over Collingwood at Victoria Park on April 17, 1993, Nicky lifted his St Kilda jumper and pointed to his stomach - his skin. The moment he lifted his jumper, the image captured by the photographer portrayed the strong sense of pride for all Indigenous Australians of the culture, historical links to country, and that the colour of one's skin should not be a barrier.

By doing this, he made a stand against racism in sports, starting a conversation that racism in sport needs to be tackled and was unacceptable. Nicky's actions epitomised an important time in sport.

We also have outstanding non-Indigenous heroes too. Fiona Stanley and Fred Hollows in Health, Nugget Coombs and Sir Paul Hasluck in public policy. There are many more who work with us and alongside us including, but not exclusively, our teachers, police officers, nurses, corporate leaders and community workers. Our own people.

I value their contributions immensely. I want to move to a conclusion in which I refer to Neville Bonner, the first Indigenous person in the Australian Parliament. Neville and I became friends in later years.

He'll never forget being shown around the museum of the Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House and seeing his pillow on display. The curator explained that his family had donated his pillow and his diary.

In the diary, he wrote that in Canberra, he was never invited to a function or to dinner. He was never invited for a coffee and a chat. He when home every night to his pillow - his only friend.

It's like the child who is never invited to a birthday party. What a picture of loneliness. It's so much harder to walk the path of progress when you are alone.

I take great comfort in knowing I'm not alone - indeed, I couldn't do this alone. I know the expectations on me are high. I know I won live up to all of them. But I will do my best. Our leadership role and our communities will need to walk with me, leaving our footprints for others to follow.

All of us leave footprints in the sand as we take each step in life as we achieve our aspirations and dreams. They mark the way, they show the past. The distance we have travelled over the years, but more importantly, if we walked alone, or whether there are footprints of friendship and support.

As I walk this way, I hope that the footprints I leave and the tracks I leave, will walk the same way and find it easier than I did.

I'm sure many of you in this room will remember the day almost 20 years ago now when 300,000 Australians marched across the Sydney Harbour Bridge for reconciliation.

It was a breath taking moment of solidarity when Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians walked arm in arm across that iconic bridge, declaring their will to walk arm in arm in our national life as well.

That's the image I carry with me. That's what I want to see when I look for partners and fellow travelers on this journey. When I look back along the paths we've walked and the progresses we made, I can see faces in that crowd.

And it will be easier, because it won't be one set of footprints, but many. It will be hundreds and thousands of footprints of all sizes walking in the same direction, side by side, working and sharing ideas to make a difference.

The sands of this nation bear footprints of the oldest living culture in the world. Those who come after them must leave their own tracks. It's up to us to choose where we make them and where they might lead.

The challenges are many, and I invite you to share your generosity of humanity to work and walk with me for a better outcome and future for Indigenous Australians.

Thank you.