• Ken Wyatt tours a dialysis centre in Alice Springs in 2018. Mr Wyatt returns to the NT for his fifth visit since May as Minister for Indigenous Australians. (Ryan Liddle)Source: Ryan Liddle
The Minister for Indigenous Australians begins a tour of the Northern Territory ten days after a noted absence from celebrations over the closure of the Uluru climb.
Jack Latimore, Shahni Wellington

6 Nov 2019 - 2:51 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2019 - 2:54 AM

Aboriginal affairs minister Ken Wyatt has hit the red dirt in Central Australia for several official engagements on a tour that comes hot on the heels of the permanent closure of the climb at Uluru.

On Tuesday, Mr Wyatt visited Alice Springs to meet with local organisations working to address youth suicide in the region.

It was the minister's fourth visit to the Northern Territory in the five months since he was appointed to the portfolio, but his first since a noted absence from proceedings at Uluru surrounding the climb closure on October 26.

Prior to his arrival, Mr Wyatt said the visit demonstrated that the Morrison Government were serious about addressing "the particular needs and priorities within the NT.” 

During Tuesday's engagements, Mr Wyatt said was "beneficial" to hear "from people who are on the ground" addressing important issues of emotional wellbeing, mental health and youth suicide in the region.

“We must look at what’s currently working, and build upon that work to ensure that communities are empowered to address these issues directly," he said.

“The Morrison Government remains focused on working with leaders, young people and communities throughout Australia to identify what more can be done and how we can best provide support.”

Scott Morrison slammed for not attending Uluru closure celebrations
Labor politicians have questioned why the Prime Minister and the Indigenous Affairs Minister did not travel to Uluru on the weekend.

Ministerial accountability

Mr Wyatt's return to the NT ten days after his absence from the Uluru climbing ban also follows last week's minor furore over his announcement of "The Co-design Process" for achieving an Indigenous Voice. The co-design model preferred by the Morrison government was considered by numerous prominent Indigenous Rights advocates to be at odds with the concept of the " Voice" called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.  

On the eve of the minister's announcement on October 30, the influential Central Land Council (CLC), an organisation representing Aboriginal people in the southern half of the NT, met near Uluru and unanimously passed a resolution to "reject symbolic recognition" and demand a Voice "protected in the constitution".

The Co-design Process announced by Mr Wyatt last week involves the initial appointment of an elite committee of 18 members to be called the Senior Advisory Group and co-chaired by Aboriginal academics Professor Tom Calma and Professor Marcia Langton.

This senior committee will be tasked with overseeing the formation of two subsidiary committees consisting of Indigenous and non-Indigenous members: one will consider ways to “enhance” decision-making at a national level, while the other will look at ways to do so at the regional and local level.  

These two subsidiary committee's will work to develop models “to enhance local/regional decision-making and a national voice to government to test across across the country”

The second step of the minister’s two-staged Co-design Process will see the models determined by the subsidiary committees tabled to "Indigenous leaders, communities and stakeholders" for further consultation.

The announcement was criticised by advocates of the Indigenous regional dialogues that led up to the national convention at Uluru in 2017 as an attempt to water-down the structural reforms called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Supported by the freshly appointed co-chairs of the new Senior Advisory Group, Mr Wyatt insisted that the Co-Design Process could still lead to the constitutional changes and safeguards sought in the Uluru Statement. 

However, constitutional law expert, Professor Megan Davis, a Cobble-Cobble woman who was a member of the Referendum Council that facilitated the regional consultations process that led to the national Uluru convention, told NITV News that it was "unfair to mob" to promote that outcome as a consequence of the government's preferred legislated model of the Indigenous Voice to parliament.

“Promising legislation first and enshrinement later sets up unrealistic expectations," said Prof Davis. "If you legislate, it is extremely unlikely it will be enshrined."

In a statement released one day prior to Mr Wyatt's Co-Design Process announcement, CLC chair Sammy Wilson said the Howard government's abolition of ATSIC - the last national Indigenous representative body– in March 2005 was fresh in the minds of CLC members.

“This government will be struggling to win over Aboriginal people in the heart of the the nation for its plans,” said Mr Wilson.

Mr Wyatt's return to the NT also comes as around 20,000 mostly Indigenous Northern Territory constituents face a transition onto the controversial Cashless Debit Card from April 2020.

Ken Wyatt’s ‘voice to government’ fails to hear Indigenous Australians
The proposal is to be legislated and not enshrined in the constitution. This type of reform was resoundingly rejected by the Uluru statement.

Land Handback

On Wednesday, Mr Wyatt will head to the Ammaroo Station, around 300 kilometres north east of Alice Springs, to attend the partial hand-back of its pastoral lease land to Traditional Owners.

The hand-back will complete a native title claim settlement, dating back to 2014, over 31 square kilometres of land. 

Speaking on behalf of the Aherrenge Aboriginal Land Trust, Traditional Owner Tony Morton said in a pre-released media statement that the group was "happy for Minister Wyatt to hand our land back to us".

A hand-back ceremony will be hosted by the CLC.

The minister's other commitments during the trip will include a meeting in Darwin on suicide prevention, a ceremony for the repatriation of cultural material in Alice Springs and the opening of a police station on Groote Eyelandt.

To round out the week, Mr Wyatt will give the opening address at the Aboriginal Economic Development Forum in Darwin on Friday.

The biennial forum is one of the largest events of its kind in Australia and attracts around 400 delegates to discuss employment and economic opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Mr Wyatt will join CLC chair Mr Wilson, along with former Rugby League champion Jonathon Thurston, and the NT Treaty Commissioner, Professor Mick Dodson AM, at the event.

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