Patricia Karvelas As the Australia Day public holiday comes to a close, the debate around the date, the meaning of Australia Day continues. For some, it's a deeply painful day. For others, a chance to celebrate. Ken Wyatt, the first indigenous person to be minister for Indigenous Australians, says commemorations around the country should mark both the good and the bad of the nation's history. Ken Wyatt joins us now. Minister, welcome.
Ken Wyatt Hi. It's great to be with you, Patricia.
Patricia Karvelas As an Indigenous Australian, is the date of Australia Day difficult for you personally?
Patricia Karvelas No. Because I've reached a point in life where I look at what we've achieved now. I know where I've come from. Being born in the 50s, Australia was quite tough and it was a different attitude to Aboriginal people. And I look at today and we see the inclusiveness in so many areas. That was very different to then, same as the names I used to be called. I don't hear those as often they're very rare. And so on that basis, I see a nation that's come together and will continue to forge ahead. But, I think that people have the right to express their views. There is a dark history that is embedded in the treatment of Indigenous Australians back in the early days of the colony and in the intervening periods because of government policies. But I'm also seeing a significant shift.
Patricia Karvelas You say there's no appetite to change the date, but that's been slowly shifting, hasn't it? And it could shift further.
Ken Wyatt Well, it might do. But we've got to consider there's probably 18 million Australians who would need to have a say on this issue. And I'd certainly see marches where the numbers might be 2000 and that's only 2000 out of the 13 or 14 million. As time goes by, I think the debate will mature and at some point. And I've always said this when we become a republic, then the date will be very different. But in the meantime, people need to keep having the conversations around tables and barbecues and exploring what other options are, because at some point the mood in Australia may change. And they say, yeah let's change the date and you have a significant majority that then places any government in a different context to how they react to that?
Patricia Karvelas Are they really a small but loud minority?
Ken Wyatt I think if we take just the numbers who march, then you could extrapolate that there are a small number. If there are many other quiet Australians who believes strongly and that becomes evident over a period of time, then governments will have to respond.
Patricia Karvelas And do you expect that that will happen at some point?
Ken Wyatt Look, I think we will see people have the debate, and then ultimately, time will tell as to whether we remain a country as we are now or whether there's another push for a republic and to statehood, that's very different. But let's see how things evolve. Yesterday, what I saw was certainly, I talked to some of the protesters when I went to the Birak festival, some very strong baggers. When I went up to them, the first one who had heckled me at the beginning of my speech on stage said, I'm sorry, can I give you a hug? And he gave me an incredible hug and said, then we stood and we chatted and he said, you know nothing against you. He just said, I'm just protesting at the Australian people for not well, for wanting to continue to have Australia Day on this day. And we had a great conversation. I had conversations with many others who were part of the march. And most of them, again, talked to me about local issues. Herbert spoke to me about his community, Lockridge and wanting me to go out there and sit down with them and have a discussion about how we can move forward on some challenges he has within his community. And I've given him an undertaking. I'll do that.
Patricia Karvelas Changing the date, of course, doesn't change the history. How much more honest we need to be about this history?
Ken Wyatt That's the question. And that's the crux of what I want to do with truth telling. When I first read about the Mile Creek massacre outside of the Pinjarra massacre and others that have happened in Western Australia, there was much more public than ours. But what I like was the way in which the non-Indigenous and Indigenous community have come together. And there is now a monument that tells the truth of what happened, and we'll see more and more of that. And if we look at some of the journals that have been written by early settlers, some of the pastoral owners and some of the things that were done on pastoral stations, a book I read by Steven Hawk, who told some harrowing stories about what happened to Indigenous men on some of those stations, what happened to women. All of that needs to come out because, we don't want retribution, all we want is the true history of this nation told. And it's tended to be one sided. The whole debate around Bruce Pascoe, the book goes to the way in which somebody does research, uses particular journals and sources, and then writes about a topic that he wishes to explore. And equally, that's been challenging for some people. But in the fires, in the aftermath, they've discovered eel traps that were built by Aboriginal people. So they showed there was some evidence that there were structures built. So we shouldn't discount everything. It's part of the debate as part of the discussion.
Patricia Karvelas You mentioned Bruce Pascoe, and the debate around there. Will, you ask for resignations by members of your advisory council on a voice to Parliament. Specifically, I'm asking about member Josephine Cashman, who is criticized for his Pascoe and questioned his Aboriginal identity.
Ken Wyatt No I won't ask people to resign, any member to resign. What I will do is allow in the first instance for the group to collectively have a discussion with those individuals as to their views. But what's more important is, I want them to focus on getting the voice right, because every time Patricia, I go to a community, I have people who say to me, forget about these national voices. Who's listening to us? Who's listening? About three elders living in a tin shed because they can't get a house who's listening about how we get better health. And so I want them to think about models of how we hear community, but also hear regional voices. We've got a set of national peak bodies who focus within very specific areas and are advocates for the organisations that they have responsibility for. But this process is about getting it right at all levels. Because I do want to see a voice to government and ultimately parliament so that our views are reflected within the thinking of the members of the Australian Parliament and they are used to influence the way in which some legislation is crafted.
Patricia Karvelas Are you concerned about the conduct of Josephine Cashman, who's on your committee?
Ken Wyatt I'm disappointed. Often when we challenge somebody's identity, we don't go public. We tend to ask the individual, we tend to ask communities. But doing a public debate creates an opportunity for those who live with the notion that we take still the old practice of full bloods, half cast, quarter cast, quadroon, and they keep it alive by saying, oh, they can't be Aboriginal because they're fair skinned. But as we marry into different cultural groups, we don't do what other nations do. We tend to still have our genetic links to our indigeneity. But we take on many of the attributes of the partner we married and in our children that's reflected. And so we will have Indigenous kids who don't fit the descriptors of what some people in this society see is the true Aboriginal. And yet they are true in every sense. And I know this is impacting on many people. I had people come up to me yesterday saying they were concerned at Josephine's open process in attacking Bruce Pascoe because they said they're now having people say, well, you can't be Aboriginal. Your skin's as fair as Bruce Pascoe is. And that's an outcome I did not want to see.
Patricia Karvelas And you say you're disappointed in the way that she's conducted herself. Why should she remain on this committee?
Ken Wyatt Well, I want to let the first meeting happen, the second meeting of the National Committee, because I want to give her the opportunity of talking with her peers about the stand she's taken, the impact, and they will have questions for her. And then I will consider some options. I can terminate as a minister because it's a ministerial body that I've appointed people to. But I also want her to have the opportunity of talking with her peers.
Patricia Karvelas In two weeks, the Closing the Gap statement will be revealed, tabled in parliament by the Prime Minister, of course. And no doubt you've been getting progress reports. I know what's in that. Are you comfortable with the progress?
Ken Wyatt I'm comfortable with the progress. I'm comfortable with the change that we're going through because we've, we're now co-designing, which is something I've always wanted to do. We are co-designing the Closing the Gap targets, with 50 peak organisations who are a reflection of the diversity of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. State and territory ministers and my cabinet colleagues who recently in a meeting the Prime Minister he said, we are all ministers for Indigenous Australians. We have a responsibility in each of our portfolios to make sure that we are including Indigenous Australians in services we provide as a government. So, and let me say, the peaks have been tremendous. It's the first time that we've had a COAG working group that is co-chaired by two Indigenous people, who then report back to both the Prime Minister and ultimately COAG on what are the targets we will measure against. And we are developing targets that are meaningful and are rigorous in the way you can achieve the changes. But the emphasis that I know the PM and I've been talking about, is we want to celebrate success. This came home to me on this basis. Patricia, I was in the Kimberley. A group of young people said, what hope have we got? When all you do is talk about the gap and disparity and all you're doing is reinforcing in our minds that we're not going to succeed. So in talking with the PM, we're going to celebrate the successes that we have. 65 per cent of Aboriginal students achieve secondary education. We'll celebrate that and then say, okay, let's aim for another five per cent next year. So we keep increasing the number and look at achievable directions. And the peak organisations have made it clear that everybody needs to be accountable against those targets and explain why they didn't achieve, or why, and share and celebrate what they achieved, that's over and above what we'd set as the targets for that year.
Patricia Karvelas Minister, before I let you go, Sky News is reporting that a staffer working for Bridget McKenzie had concerns about the sports grants and raised them directly with their Chief of Staff. They were told this is how the Minister wants to do this and we have to abide by that. Given these latest revelations, is her position tenable? Should she resign?
Ken Wyatt Look, internal staff matters are not within the public domain. And often, and I went through this, Patricia, as you will recall, where the internal machinations between individuals became something greater than what it was. But look, I know that Bridget McKenzie would have worked very closely with her agency and would have worked within the framework of the intent of the funding program. And certainly many organisations had been successful and had moved ahead. I'm particularly pleased that women have been at the greater beneficiary of many of these grants.
Patricia Karvelas Three Cabinet Ministers, Senator McKenzie herself, Josh Frydenberg, and actually you, secured nearly $500,000 funding for grassroots sports clubs in your electorates. You're a member of a club that received money, but you disclosed your membership. Why did you, tell me about that process of disclosure? Were you making that disclosure because you're aware of the difficulties around this and the transparency issues?
Ken Wyatt I always declare, if I'm asked to be a patron, I write back and accept patronage. And then I always list it on my Member’s Interests. That's been standard ever since I've been in politics. What I do when a grant is announced, whether it's sport or any other one community grants, for example. I will write to every organisation within my electorate and then provide them with the information and then they go through the process and submit their applications and we allow due process to occur. But I've always been a strong advocate, with my community in encouraging them to apply for grants, and in fact, we provide a list of grants to many organisations, if they come and see us and say, are there funding avenues, we provide them with a list of Commonwealth grants, state grants and even little ones like Bank West have Bank West Accounts grants they give for community awards. There's Perth Airport's community grants.
Patricia Karvelas So you go through that process. Should Bridget McKenzie have done the same?
Ken Wyatt Look, I think she would probably do the same.
Patricia Karvelas She didn't do the same though, she didn't declare that was the issue.
Ken Wyatt She may have overlooked that. Every time we get asked to do something as, an involvement in an organisation, even Rotary have asked me to become a member of their organisation. If when I do accept that, I will list it. And that's what the practice requires us to do, is to list all of our organisations. It's part of, an even if it's a small organization, PK, I still list them.
Patricia Karvelas Will she survive the week Minister?
Ken Wyatt Look, that's for the National Party to consider. And I know that the Prime Minister has referred the matter for investigation and we'll await to see what the outcome of that. And that's a matter for the leader of the National Party.
Patricia Karvelas But isn't it an issue for the Prime Minister?
Ken Wyatt Well, it is. That's why he's referred it for investigation.
Patricia Karvelas Thank you so much for joining us tonight.
Ken Wyatt No, it's been a pleasure.
Patricia Karvelas And that is, of course, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt.