Transcript - Triple J - Interview with Avani Dias

Avani Dias:    Noongar man Ken Wyatt was recently sworn in as the first ever Aboriginal person to become the Minister for Indigenous Australians. It was an amazing moment and a long time coming.


He was wrapped in a kangaroo skin cloak and thanked his mum who was a member of the Stolen Generations. For the first time we have a Minister in this space who has skin in the game and knows what it's like as an Aboriginal man to face the problems in his portfolio.


But that comes with a lot of expectations from First Nations people for Ken Wyatt to deal with those issues; like working out how to achieve constitutional recognition, finalising new Closing the Gap targets and dealing with devastatingly high rates of suicide among young Indigenous people and these are all issues we've covered extensively on Hack.


So let's chat to him now. Ken Wyatt thank you so much for joining us on Hack and congratulations.


Ken Wyatt:     Thank you. It's great to be with you.


Avani Dias:    Let's start with the Closing the Gap targets you flagged this as a key priority in your portfolio. They're aimed at improving the lives of Indigenous people in our generation but we've actually gone backwards in the last 10 years. Is that good enough?


Ken Wyatt:     No it's not. And what I am pleased about is the education outcomes and certainly the number of students who are going into tertiary studies, graduating and being highly successful in getting jobs within a range of industries.


That's one of the great outcomes. The other that we've failed on his childhood mortality, but when I drill down into that data it's not just mortality from a health it is mortality from road accidents drownings falls and even homicides.


And so that will always skew the result because those are things that are outside of the government's control.


Avani Dias:    You mentioned childhood mortality. Will you introduce a mental health target or a target to reduce suicides in Indigenous communities?


Ken Wyatt:     Well we won't have a target per se but we will focus on a range of activities and initiatives that will go to some of the very critical issues that are underlying causal factors.


And in the Kimberley youth suicide roundtable, and in the Darwin one, what's been important is the voices of young people who said simple things like; having mentors and people they can trust; having strong identity; having sporting connections.


They also made a salient point of saying by the way services need to open out of hours, not 9 to 5 because most suicides happen after that time. So they've been making a great contribution to the things we think about. But one young gentleman in Darwin said they used the four elements.


But the one that stuck with me was when he said we're born we have a fire within us and if we keep that fire stoked and we look after it and we feed it and nurture it, we have the warmth, we have the light, we have the heat. But he said if we ignore it and it starts to go out we will lose it. And he then went on to paint the importance of the other elements in tackling youth suicide.


Avani Dias:    Yeah you mentioned some of those calls from young Indigenous people. You've allocated five million dollars in the latest budget to prevent Indigenous suicides. Is that enough and is the model working that we're currently using?


Ken Wyatt:     I think in the Kimberley what we're seeing where we have appointed through the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service and the Roundtable members community leaders who are now mapping access to programs and services.


It's in a limited number of places but what we're finding is people are being better informed they have someone to go to and they're starting to engage. There is still much more work to be done though. But look our culture was always strong.


Suicides weren't a way of life as far as we can ascertain. And I suspect they weren't. But it's in more contemporary times we're now seeing people take their lives in a way that was not meant to be. So it doesn't apply to any Australian.


Avani Dias:    What will you do to fix that then.


Ken Wyatt:     Well by listening, the young people they are telling us the things are important and what I noticed when I read the coronial inquiry report is a number of these occurred during the holidays.


So we have to restructure the levels of support that young people can access. But I think we underestimate the importance of teachers and school in being there providing people with a voice they can talk to. But equally inspiring them to think about tackling their issue in a different way.


Avani Dias:    So what way will that be. Have you sort of flagged posted the ways that you'll invest this money and will you do it differently?


Ken Wyatt:     But it's going to vary across the country because headspace has been tremendous; we've created ambassadors and two of those ambassadors are young Indigenous people in the Kimberley - Jacob and Montana and what they're doing is they're working with the young people looking at sharing information but listening to them raising their concerns, accessing them to points of support and they have been very effective.


So I'm looking at some other options at the moment within existing resources. But the Prime Minister held a roundtable just yesterday in which we had serious discussions about the whole spectrum of the impact of suicide.


Avani Dias:    So do you think the current model and the way that we're funding this has not worked to date?


Ken Wyatt:     Look I think it does work. I think there are programs and initiatives that have an impact but we still have a gap for some people and we're going to have to look at how we deal with that gap look at where services exist and where people are missing out on those levels of support and making the wrong decision.


So he's given us a challenge and a task for all of the Ministers who were in attendance to go away and do some further work and build on what we have rolled out as a government, working closely with state and territory governments but also with Primary Health Networks GPs and health professionals and community leaders.


Avani Dias:    We are chatting to Ken Wyatt the Minister for Indigenous Australians and a lot of First Nations people say in order to fix issues like indigenous suicide and various other things they need autonomy and a voice in parliament. Why is it taking so long to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution?


Ken Wyatt:     Part of it is to do with what is the question that needs to be put to the Australian people, what is the set of words? Because 86 per cent of Australians support recognition within the Constitution.


This is based on the Reconciliation Australia barometer and they've been pretty consistent in that message, in the time they've been running the barometer. But the question we get, people say to me 'I support it but Ken what's the question? Because I need to know what the question is.’


Avani Dias:    It has been eight years at least - reports over all those years, eight reports in eight years, looking into what that question will be and now your government's allocated more money to find another question. I mean when will you commit to this and hold a referendum?


Ken Wyatt:     I know we're committed but it's just getting this set of words right.


Avani Dias:    In this term of parliament?


Ken Wyatt:     Look I would love to see it in his term of Parliament but I'm also a pragmatist because you need the majority of Australians and the majority of states and territories to support the question if they don't then it's lost.


And it then is relegated to a shelf for a long long time and we are unlikely to then see that question raised again for probably another 30 years.


Avani Dias:    All right Ken Wyatt Indigenous Affairs Minister thank you so much for making time for Hack.


Ken Wyatt:     It's a pleasure to be on Hack. And I look forward to catching up again.


Avani Dias:    Thank you.