Labor’s opening of a “can of worms” by supporting a treaty with Indigenous people has the potential to derail the recognition movement, the first Aboriginal man to become a frontbencher in a Federal government told NITV.
“I just thought this is possibly an end to recognition,” Ken Wyatt, the Liberal member for Hasluck, said.
His comments come after Labor leader Bill Shorten told the media last week he was “up for the conversation on a treaty” after moves to acknowledge people in Australia’s Constitution.
“I was extremely disappointed because I think we’ve got to finish the debate on recognition,” Mr Wyatt, who has Nyoongar, Yamatji and Wongi heritage, said.
Prime Minister Turnbull also quickly condemned the Opposition Leader’s comments.
“Mr Shorten should have more discipline and more focus on ensuring we maintain support for constitutional recognition rather than introducing other concepts which will, in my view, undermine the prospects of getting the very high level of public support you need for constitutional recognition of our first Australians,” he told reporters in Perth last week.
The WA frontbencher echoed the Prime Minister’s comments.
"If all three [parties] aren’t committed to recognition, and particularly the two major parties, then there would be no hope of it ever succeeding and that would be a pity,” Ken Wyatt said.
But Ken Wyatt isn’t completely opposed to Australians talking treaty.
Wyatt open to further treaty and sovereignty talks
Apart from the campaign to recognise Indigenous people in the constitution, there is an increasingly vocal number of First Nations people calling for a binding legal agreement between the Commonwealth and Aboriginal people.
But treaty talks would have to happen after Indigenous people had overwhelmingly rejected constitutional recognition, according to Ken Wyatt.
It could well happen next year, with both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader supporting a referendum on constitutional recognition on May 27, 2017, the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum.
“If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don’t want recognition then they have to say so and we let the whole matter fall away,” Mr Wyatt said.
“I think then you would need to start having the discussions around what you mean by treaty, defining those parameters within it and then having the discussions around the management, the content and the way it would be implemented and adhered to.”
As the chair of a parliamentary committee into constitutional change that travelled around Australia, the Liberal member for the Western Australian seat of Hasluck heard many views on treaty.
But he isn’t personally optimistic about a treaty.
“I don’t think a treaty in itself will change the plight of our people,” he said.
But he hasn’t completely closed the door on a treaty in the future.
“Nothing’s impossible but it’s whether there’s a will of any government and the unity of will within the Aboriginal community to head down that pathway.”