• 'Whether Dennis, inset, apologises or not is up to him, but what it demonstrates to me is that he's not prepared to have an open mind': Ken Wyatt. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
EXCLUSIVE | As WA politician Dennis Jensen refuses to apologise for his comments, Australia's first Indigenous minister is joined by Coalition colleagues in distancing themselves from Mr Jensen's speech in parliament earlier this week.
Myles Morgan

25 Feb 2016 - 12:06 PM  UPDATED 25 Feb 2016 - 6:52 PM


They’re electoral neighbours in Western Australia: Ken Wyatt represents Hasluck while Dennis Jensen serves Tangney.

But in a turn of sorts, Australia’s first federal Indigenous minister has given a dressing down to his fellow Liberal.

Mr Jensen hasn’t backed away from describing Aboriginal people in remote communities as pursuing a ‘noble savage’ lifestyle.

“Whether Dennis apologises or not is up to him, but what it demonstrates to me is that he's not prepared to have an open mind,” Ken Wyatt told NITV.

Mr Wyatt has Nyoongar, Yamatji and Wongi heritage, and became Assistant Health Minister in 2015.

He repudiated Mr Jensen’s calls for colour blind policies that didn’t positively discriminate against Indigenous people.

Earlier this week, Mr Jensen told parliament the taxpayer shouldn’t be expected to fund ‘lifestyle choices’ – echoing an infamous remark from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

"In essence, if the 'noble savage' lifestyle, à la Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the same one often eulogised, is true, then there is nothing stopping any Indigenous men or women from pursuing such an existence on their own,” Mr Jensen told the House of Representatives.

It’s a view Mr Wyatt said he would like to challenge, not condemn.

“If you want to discuss and debate issues then let's lay them on the table and have the debates around them, but do them from an informed position, not one based on prejudices or viewpoints that are stuck in an era long before this one,” he told NITV.

Politicians from both sides critical

The Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion told the Senate this afternoon that Mr Jensen’s commentary was uncalled for.

“In this place, those remarks are usually described as unhelpful by Mr Jensen, and no I do not support his remarks in any way,” Senator Scullion said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called on Prime Minister Turnbull to condemn the comments.

“Before he became leader, [Prime Minister Turnbull] would have slapped down the far-right of his party,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Canberra this morning.

“We saw this Dennis Jensen chap say things which I am sure Malcolm Turnbull doesn't personally believe, but he has been silent.”

NITV understands the Prime Minister’s own Indigenous Advisory Council will bring up the issue with Malcolm Turnbull when it meets with him next week in Canberra.

Mr Jensen has no understanding of what goes on in remote Indigenous communities, according to West Australian Labor candidate and Aboriginal lawyer Tammy Solonec.

“To call us a ‘savage’ suggests we're not as human as other people, we're not as intelligent as other people and we are. It is a complete lie to say these things about Aboriginal people,” she said in Perth today.

“Perhaps he should keep his comments to Tangney, which he represents.”

Jensen stands by the term 'noble savage'

When asked by NITV whether he could have used another term instead of ‘noble savage’ to describe Indigenous people, Mr Jensen was unequivocal in his response.

“In the context of the speech, no I don’t think so,” he said.

“It is a very specific term with a very specific idea to it.”

Mr Jensen, who represents the Western Australian electorate of Tangney, said he was using ‘noble savage’ in its literary meaning.

It is a romantic, idealised concept of a person untouched and uncorrupted by Western civilisation, according to the South African-born politician.

“I don’t think it’s a provocative term, I think people choose to take it provocatively. I think people choose to take offence,” he said.

'Any notion of race is harmful'

Since leaving South Africa, Mr Jensen said he no longer wanted to see citizens divided by their race.

“All I’m after is a policy where all Australians are treated the same. I find very distasteful looking at paperwork asking ‘Are you an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander?’ he told NITV.

“It brings me back to the Apartheid days in South Africa.”

The backbencher also told parliament earlier in the week that he wholeheartedly supported Tony Abbott’s infamous ‘lifestyle choices’ remark.

Indigenous people are free to live in remote communities, but shouldn’t expect unquestioning support from the Government, according to Mr Jensen.

He also said he was well aware of the connection First Nations people feel to their country.

It was his visits to remote communities in the Kimberley and the Northern Territory that had reinforced his views.

“No jobs, no employment prospects at all, little-to-no education, that is something I’m not in favour of supporting,” he said.

“I’ve just seen squalor and no hope. It appals me that you have these young children running around and you know they’re going to be their parents and their grandparents in the decades hence.