Ken Wyatt says improving Indigenous Australians' daily lives is more important than constitutional recognition

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt says he's more focused on making the daily lives of Indigenous Australians better rather than constitutional recognition.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt poses for a portrait at Parliament House in Canberra, February, Tuesday 11, 2020. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING

Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt has previously promised a referendum on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians in 2021. Source: AAP

Ken Wyatt says he’s more focused on making a difference to Indigenous Australians daily lives than constitutional recognition.  

The latest Closing the Gap report released on Tuesday shows only two of seven government targets are on track to reduce disparities in health, education and employment outcomes.

The minister for Indigenous Australians said reducing these inequalities and finding the right format for a 'Voice to Parliament' to better listen to communities must be prioritised.

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“My focus has been on the things that impact people on a daily basis so these areas are critical,” he told SBS News.

Ken Wyatt is interviewed by SBS at Parliament House in Canberra.
Ken Wyatt is interviewed by SBS at Parliament House in Canberra. Source: AAP


Last year, Mr Wyatt said the federal government intended to hold a referendum on constitutional recognition by mid-next year.

But when pressed on Wednesday, he would did not re-commit to the 2021 deadline.

“Let’s worry about that a little later down the track,” he said. 

“Let’s get the voice component right first then let’s get work underway to make sure we close the gap in many areas of people’s lives.”



Mr Wyatt last year set up a senior advisory body to develop a 'Voice to Parliament' aimed at ensuring Indigenous Australians are heard in local, regional and national decision making.

He wants to ensure this process co-chaired by Indigenous leaders Marcia Langton and Tom Calma is not confused with constitutional recognition.

=Ken Wyatt says he's focused on making a difference to Indigenous Australians daily lives.
Ken Wyatt says he's focused on making a difference to Indigenous Australians daily lives. Source: AAP


The Closing the Gap report found targets for child mortality, school attendance, literacy and numeracy, life expectancy and employment were not on track.

But improvements have been made on early childhood enrollments and Year 12 attainment.

Labor’s Indigenous Australians spokesperson Linda Burney described the report’s findings as an “absolutely dismal” situation.

“It’s dismal and unacceptable and the people that suffer are not statistics, they are real people,” she told reporters.

“They are cousins, they are sons and daughters, they are grandmothers, they are people we know that die far too young in a first-world nation as wealthy as Australia.”

Labor's Indigenous Australians spokesperson Linda Burney has supported the push for better tailored services for Indigenous families with autistic children.
Labor's Indigenous Australians spokesperson Linda Burney has supported the push for better tailored services for Indigenous families with autistic children. Source: AAP


Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for a new approach to the “stark and sobering” report, saying he was concerned it was not recognising progress and reinforces the language of failure.

“We must be careful not to speak of our First Australians as a broken people,” he told Parliament.

"The targets don't celebrate the strengths, achievements and aspirations of Indigenous people. They don't tell you how realistic or achievable these targets were in the first place. We must be careful not to adopt a negative mindset.”

But Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said the reality of the situation must be acknowledged.

“We have seen year after year, a breaking down even further into poverty, into disadvantage for First Nations people,” she told reporters.

Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy.
Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. Source: AAP


Senator McCarthy said there was a connection between the disparities and a 'Voice to Parliament'.

“All of these things are connected to closing the gap and improving the lives of First Nations people,” she said.

The annual Closing the Gap report was initiated by former prime minister Kevin Rudd following the formal apology to the stolen generations.


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3 min read
Published 12 February 2020 at 12:21pm
By Tom Stayner