Transcript - Doorstop - National Indigenous Week Conference

31 May 2019

James Back:    So this week is National Reconciliation Week: Grounded in Truth, Walk Together with Courage. This morning was the biggest breakfast ever hosted at Crown here and we have over 1350 leaders from across the West Australian community from the corporate, community and government sectors. We all did a bit of unlearning. We all did a bit of relearning.


And the Minister’s foreign speech has filled our hearts with passion and energy to go ahead now together, to walk with courage and build a more united, stronger Australia together. So, a really solid day. We're looking forward to the Walk, which is happening at Yagan Square this afternoon and we welcome everyone to join us there to attend.


Ken Wyatt:       James, can I thank you and Reconciliation Australia for the work that you continue to do along with your co-chairs.


If we are to change the outcomes for Indigenous Australians, then we, as a nation, need to walk side by side in developing the outcomes that we've been striving for through, Closing the Gap.


But more importantly, it is about humanity. It is about looking after each other in that journey for our children so that we have a stronger and better future.


And when I look around that room and see 1350 people and you listen to the corporate bodies that were involved, then it is an outstanding commitment from corporate Australia to walk alongside all of the other organisations that were in there.


So, Reconciliation Australia has continued to walk with fellow Australians, outlining the advantages and directions that we need to seriously consider and their barometer is very rewarding in the outcomes, where people across this nation are expressing high levels of support for what we're striving to achieve.


The five key planks that Reconciliation Australia has, particularly equity and equality, is a significant one in how I address this in my portfolio and the work that I have to do.


Now, are there any questions on Reconciliation Australia?


Question:          I have some questions about Indigenous affairs [indistinct].


Ken Wyatt:       [Talks over] Yeah, we’ll go to those after this. Let's focus on this first. Alright. If there's no other, thanks very much, James. You were great…


James Back:    [Talks over] Thank you, Minister. Appreciate your time today.


Ken Wyatt:       … It’s a brilliant time today.


James Back:    Thank you. [Indistinct]


Question:          Federal Labor was promising a 10-year funding deal for remote housing. Is that something you will consider a long-term funding agreement with the State Government in your new role?


Ken Wyatt:       All arrangements that have been put into place will continue to be the basis of the way we move forward.


There will be discussions with state and territory ministers on a raft of issues. And in respect to directions that we need to take, nothing's off the table in terms of those ongoing discussions because the bottom line for all of us is to improve the outcomes for Indigenous Australians regardless of where they live.


It's been a priority of government since certainly 1972, with the establishment of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, through to this government, who's strongly committed to having improved outcomes in educational opportunities, reducing youth suicide, encouraging Indigenous Australians to become entrepreneurs and innovators but also to have jobs within the workforce that is on parity with all other Australians.


Question:          Are you convinced the Community Development Program and the Cashless Debit Card are functioning properly or working as intended?


Ken Wyatt:       Look, the cashless debit card in communities where I’ve been, individuals have indicated that the outcomes have resulted in less evidence of alcohol being abused, hospital reduction rates from injuries, an impact on domestic violence, the outcome of children going to school having been fed.


Now, they’re key fundamental human rights, and where a community chooses to take that pathway, I will support them. Where a community has issues, the more we talk them through.


But I think that we have to look at solutions that are favoured by community because I do know there are communities who have asked for it. So, let's look at each of those on a case by case basis. Let’s acknowledge the merit of that program. But where there are shortcomings, like any program that we deal within government, then we will tackle those issues accordingly.


Question:          [Indistinct] more specifically the CDP there. Do you have any concerns of how that’s been operated?


Ken Wyatt:       Look, I've not been across CDP because it was not my area of focus. I focused on aged care and Indigenous health.


But now all matters within my portfolio will become the focus of my attention.


Question:          There was a story about a leak in the Courier Mail just around a proposal [indistinct] to the Prime Minister about a Makarrata Commission. Are you describe what your idea is?


Ken Wyatt:       Now, what it was it's not government policy. What it was, as a Member of Parliament and having been co-chair of the expert- sorry, the co-chair of the Constitutional Recognition Committee, the one solution that I wanted to tease out with the PM just to see what his thoughts were was a draft paper.


Now, all of us in our roles produce draft papers. I do it on behalf of my constituents in Hasluck. They’re just ideas, and until I have that discussion with the Prime Minister, it has no status. It has no position.


The idea being, that if I took it forward to the Prime Minister and he saw merit in it, then I would start to feed that into Nigel Scullion. I did have a brief discussion with Nigel and for him then to take that forward.


The perception that I was trying to position myself for Aboriginal affairs is far from that at all. It was about finding a solution to a very complex issue on constitutional recognition because there have been five reports, and the latest report that was tabled in the last Parliament by Julie and Lisa, who was co-chair with Senator Pat Dodson, has the foundation for further discussion with our people across this country because any concept or construct around constitutional recognition has to be owned by our people.


It has to be owned by Australians and it has to be owned by every state and territory because the Constitution has a high benchmark of the majority of states and territories, the majority of Australians. So we need to do plenty of work on it.


Question:          So what was it based on, the idea? Was it from conversations or consultation or- where did it come from?


Ken Wyatt:       No, no. I've always liked the structure of the Productivity Commission and it was based purely on the Productivity Commission because I saw the power, more recently, of the Productivity Commission when the current Prime Minister was Treasurer and he commissioned, the Productivity Commission, to look at the complexity of the GST issues facing Western Australia.


And that report, once it had been undertaken, identified a raft of matters to do with our economy, but particularly Western Australia's position of being at an unfair disadvantage.


And on that basis, the Productivity Commission came back with a way forward and it provided sound advice, and so therefore, we saw the flow of money from the Commonwealth to fix that gap that we had with GST and for the GST, that was important to drive the West Australian economy plus provide essential services.


Question:          When did you hope to speak to the Prime Minister about this idea of yours?


Ken Wyatt:       Look, that's now within the mix of all matters that we will have discussions as colleagues across Cabinet.


It is about my focus on our people. Closing the Gap and refreshing and then focusing on how we move forward as a nation.


But to build on what I saw today in this room, of industry – big, corporate, small industries, non-government organisations – wanting to walk to make a better future for Indigenous people but more importantly for our children.


Question:          Are you happy with the State Governments response to the Coroners inquest into suicide in WA?


Ken Wyatt:        Look can I acknowledge the McGowan Government for committing to addressing all of those recommendations. They’re complex and the loss of any life is not acceptable. It’s one of my priorities and I look forward to working with Minister McGurk, Minister Wyatt and Minister Cook.


Question:          Could an indigenous advisory council be a part of any proposal put forward for a referendum – constitutional referendum? Is Voice to Parliament concept still on the table?


Ken Wyatt:       I think what’s on the table is still all of the matters raised in that last report.


I acknowledge that Senator Dodson, pre the election talked about regional structures and that’s a key element of that report.


So, I have an open mind I certainly want to work with our indigenous people across the country and find solutions that is acceptable to both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.


We are a people of one nation. So we need to walk together in order to find a solution but I know that there is strong support within the broader community for some sort of constitutional recognition.


The issue is the set of words and how the voice is defined because that has an element of complexity but it also has an element of simplicity; in that Aboriginal people are saying; listen to us, when you make your policies.


Question:          So a structured advisory council is still an option in your mind?


Ken Wyatt:       [Indistinct] face those issues as we work them through.


Question:          Can I just ask you how you’re feeling today? It’s the end of reconciliation week and a massive group of people in there to hear you and others speak?


I guess what does this week sort of mean to you, in your new role and how are you feeling out there today?


Ken Wyatt:       There’s two ways I feel; one as an indigenous Australian, an immense sense of pride. Pride in talking with all of our indigenous people in that room about very strong emotions and feelings; the acknowledgement of wanting to have the truth told.


But as a minister I’m also buoyed by the number of the people in that room who are prepared to commit. The goodwill that is evident across this nation.


I want to work with in order to effect real changes. But those changes will not be down out of Canberra, or at the Canberra bubble.


It’ll be done out of me sitting and talking with our leadership and with our communities. I’m going to spend some time sitting down on the dirt with communities. Where I hear the views of people who are affected every day by levels of inaction or levels of non-accessibility to Government services; doesn’t matter if it’s State or Commonwealth that all of us take for granted.


But there are others who don’t get that opportunity and I want to remedy that. So this is about improved educational outcomes, health, employment opportunities, wealth creation. Not a dependence on welfare.


Question:          But you have to get out there and sit down in the dirt. How soon do you want to be out there?


Ken Wyatt:       I want to do that very soon. I’m already starting here in my own electorate. Aboriginal organisations in my own area have already been in touch saying they want a meeting ASAP.


Today I think I got about 30 requests from key aboriginal organisations wanting to meet. In terms of communities out in the bush, I will be meeting with people. Not just remote or the north it is also groups in urban context, wheat belts and across this nation.


But I will be doing it with my colleagues. I’m already planning a visit to a remote area of Australia, with my colleague Stuart Robert. Because after I was sworn in a number of my colleagues came up and said; we want to work with you and walk with you.


And I think the Prime Minister’s appointment of me to the Portfolio has seen an incredible willing of wanting to make a difference. So we’ve got a great opportunity. And I want to invite media also to be part of that journey of making a journey along the ground.


We can always look at those things that go wrong, and write about them or talk about them. But we also need to celebrate the strengths and where communities themselves are doing it and making a difference because that is the power of reform. We can make policies but its how it’s implemented down to the family within the community that’s what makes the difference.


Question:          Has that been missing up until now, that kind of genuine consultation that isn’t tokenistic with those communities?


Ken Wyatt:       Look, I wouldn’t say consultation has been tokenistic. I think the issue is in the translation of a voice from the ground to the translation of a policy.


Because often governments are challenged in how they develop a policy that reaches everybody. One size doesn’t fit all. And we’re going to have to look at flexibility in the way in which we deliver services, have that overarching guidance. The analogy for me is like an umbrella and all the spokes on the umbrella.


We’ve got to get the covering right, we have to get the spokes right, but we have to allow for diversity across this nation.


Question:          Do you have a resolution to the [indistinct] issue this term?


Ken Wyatt:        I would rather take my time. I haven’t talked to Noel Pearson yet, but I noticed in yesterdays, West, he is of the same view.


Let’s do this properly because if we think about the republic debate and the referendum for Australia being a republic, it lost. It’s now confined to a dusty shelf and it’ll take some time to resurrect. And I’m talking about 20 years ago.


I don’t want this to happen here. I’d rather be methodical, thorough and have the support of our nation collectively for the words that will go into the constitution. But we are committed as a Government to constitutional recognition; that is broadly accepted.


Question:          Some questions on another matter. The report into bullying in your office, what changes have you enacted since that report?


Ken Wyatt:        The recommendations of the report were enacted. All those matters are now finalised. It was an independent process as would be the case in instances where complaints might be made about you as a journalist. And the outcomes are in partial recommendations and they’ve been implemented.


Question:          Will Paula Gelo remain in your office?


Ken Wyatt:        Look, I think focussing on an individual is inappropriate. There is a process that occurred and I’m in the process of filling positions for the work that I require in Aboriginal Affairs.


Question:          She has been  the subject of bullying accusations-


Ken Wyatt:        Can we leave that. There are legal actions in respect to this, so let’s not proceed to that at all.


Question:          Can you guarantee there will be no further reports of that kind coming from your office?


Ken Wyatt:        In any office, in a parliamentary context, right across this nation whether it’s: state, territory or federal. There are work pressures that require people to respond in very tight timelines and there is tension occasionally but it’s how that’s interpreted that’s the issue. It’s no different to any organisation, we have processes that are fair, that are transparent, and deal with the matters and those matters have been dealt with.


Question:          That’s it, thank you.