The Kenny Report

Release Date: 
3 February 2020

Chris Kenny Now, this is one of the issues I wanted to raise with the Indigenous Affairs Minister, Ken Wyatt, who's outlined the timetable as well for dealing with Indigenous recognition in the Constitution. I spoke with him earlier. Ken Wyatt, thanks for joining us. Before we get into Indigenous affairs issues, I just wanted to ask you about the government's response to the Coronavirus issue and the criticism of sending evacuees to Christmas Island. Do you see any problems with sending Australians for quarantining on Christmas Island?

Ken Wyatt Well, given the nature of the virus, what we need to do is protect Australians and I know that Minister Hunt with the Prime Minister and Brendan Murphy who's the Chief Medical Officer, would have given serious consideration to the mathematical modelling that can arise from infectious diseases. And it's better to protect the population and take measures that might cause an inconvenience to individuals. But more importantly, it's about ensuring that we reduce the scope of spread. And that's a critical issue in all of this.

Chris Kenny There's a lot of information around about Christmas Island. I exposed just yesterday how media was saying there armed guards there when they clearly are not. But what about these criticisms that it would be inhumane to send people to Christmas Island as if there's something inhumane about that island? Surely you'd be satisfied that the conditions and facilities there are up to scratch.

Ken Wyatt Well Chris, I've been to Christmas Island as part of a parliamentary inquiry into another matter, and I was quite taken by the facilities there. The community, but the setting and its Australian territory. So its better being on Australian territory than it would be if I was in China at the moment. I'd be quite happy to come home to Christmas Island, spend the required period, and then come home, because I know that I'd be on Australian soil and in the hands of Australian government, so I is guaranteed that I was being looked after.

Chris Kenny All right, then moving on to your portfolio areas and you've announced that you see the middle of next year as the deadline for getting up a referendum in this country to recognise Indigenous Australians in the constitution. Is that overly ambitious, given we don't even know exactly what this referendum will ask yet?

Ken Wyatt No, what will happen is that we will have a consensus position and we we're working through that process at the moment. What I would hope is that we hold it before an election is still has to go through Cabinet. It still requires support of my party. And more importantly, in the long term, we look to the support of the majority of Australians in the majority of states and territories, because this is an issue that has been going since 1999 when John Howard first introduced a referendum on this matter for a preamble. Julia Gillard appointed an expert panel to look at the issue and they came back with recommendations and then was pushed further down the track. And then ultimately Tony Abbott, when he became Prime Minister, continued support. And in fact, he made a very public statement that he would sweat blood to achieve constitutional recognition. He established the council that would look at constitutional recognition. And ultimately the Uluru statement came out of that. And then subsequently different thoughts have prevailed, and certainly we're focusing on the voice is a separate concept.

Chris Kenny I'll come to that. I'll come to that in a moment, Minister. But when it comes to recognition in the constitution of presumably apart from some sort of unifying words in a preamble, there would be measures to get rid of some of the redundant race clauses in the Constitution.

Ken Wyatt Well, Section 25 was one of the ones that every committee that's looked at this issue has recommended and amendments to 51.26 were also suggested. Well, we saw the 67 referendum remove a section of the constitution that didn't count indigenous Australians in the census or population.

Chris Kenny Well, let's get to this issue of the voice. Now, I have to declare again that you've got me on a Senior Advisory Group co-designing the voice. There's a lot of misinformation around at the moment suggesting it's still something that is going into the Constitution or something that would advise parliament. Just to be clear, you're looking at a voice which would be an Indigenous advisory body to government.

Ken Wyatt That's right. And ultimately, when you have a voice to government, you have a voice to parliament, because that is just the nature of the daily operation of our parliamentary system. And there is a commitment from government. It was part of our policy. And we will work very closely with the three groups that are working on local and regional voice, the national voice, and then the overarching committee that will bring it together and provide advice to myself and to government.

Chris Kenny Now, one of the committee members, Josephine Cashman, I've met her through that committee process. She was dismissed from the group, the advisory group this week. She's been controversially questioning the Aboriginal heritage of controversial author Bruce Pascoe. You've previously defended his Aboriginal heritage. Has she been kicked off this committee because of that stand or is there more to it? Should we be worried that people on the body, and I remind you again, of course I'm on their body are expected to toe some particular political line?

Ken Wyatt No, no, no. It's. It says, I've established and when I first spoke with all of you, this is about you exploring all of the options that will arise from the other two committees. Now, this has nothing to do with the personal debate between Ms. Cashman and Mr. Pascoe. These go to other matters. Josephine's been a close friend of mine. It took me a long time to deliberate on the matter, but I've made a decision that the outcome has to be for the benefit, firstly, of Indigenous Australians in terms of having their voices heard at all levels. But more importantly, about the way in which we as a country address many of the gaps that exist within Aboriginal communities. Now, I want to hear from people at the community level about challenges such as Lake Nash, where the colour of the water they drink is a white fluid. It's not clear like all of us take for granted or access to health services and education. So, she's not been terminated because of the difference she has with Mr Pascoe. That's a matter for those two to resolve. There are other matters which I won't discuss, that she would be fully aware of as to why I would have made that decision.

Chris Kenny All right. Thanks so much for joining us today, Minister.

Ken Wyatt My pleasure and thank you.