• Ben Wyatt has flagged changes to the previous Government's methods of dealing with First Australians. (AAP)Source: AAP
NITV speaks with Ben Wyatt, who has made history by becoming WA's first Indigenous treasurer, while retaining the Indigenous portfolio, about the key priorities in Aboriginal affairs.
Craig Quartermaine

16 Mar 2017 - 4:02 PM  UPDATED 17 Mar 2017 - 2:56 PM

The new McGowan Cabinet has been unveiled following a landslide win by the Labor Party in the West Australian State election.

Ben Wyatt has made history as the first Indigenous Treasurer of any Government in Australia but as momentous as that is Mr Wyatt has also retained the portfolio for Aboriginal Affairs.

“I want to keep Aboriginal affairs and I’ve told Mark... because I think it’s an opportunity for some real reform in Aboriginal Affairs in WA," he told NITV News.

"It’s an area that I think now for the better part of 20 years, perhaps it has missed some opportunities.”

The Barnett’s Government’s preference deal with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party ahead of their Coalition Partners the National’s in some key seats proved a disastrous move with a massive swing taking place against both parties.

Mr Wyatt believed it “starved the Government of oxygen and made them seem completely opportunistic” and cast doubt over the policies of Barnett Government.

Mr Wyatt said the previous Barnett Government had failed with Aboriginal affairs such as WA’s handling of Aboriginal deaths in police custody and the implementation of a notification system.

“Clearly notifications are vital; you can’t have Aboriginal people in custody and not being notified, it’s not a new concept and some states have been doing this for a long time with some success," he said.

"I’d look at what is being doing in other states and implement it here in WA, people have had enough it’s got to stop.”

The Closure of remote Aboriginal Communities was a disaster according to Mr Wyatt and set an unhealthy precedent for how the Barnett Government dealt with Aboriginal Affairs.

One of the first acts of the new McGowan Government was to halt the construction of the Roe 8 Highway project that cut through the culturally significant Beeliar Wetlands.

Despite expressing admiration for the attempted $1.3 Billion dollar native title deal between the Government and the Noongar people, Mr Wyatt felt the way it was conducted was it’s downfall; by dividing the community through a lack of consultation and ultimately seeing it stopped in the Supreme Court.

The controversial attempts to amend the Heritage act in WA will give the McGowan Government two opportunities for reform by assuring Heritage protection and restructuring the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

Mr Wyatt said that by repealing the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority Act, which sets up the department, will stop the Department of Aboriginal Affairs from being used as a service provider by other departments which for years have deflected their responsibilities off to the DAA.

The Federally lead trial of the Welfare Benefits Card in the East Kimberley was another major issue Mr Wyatt felt the State should become more involved in saying: "Ultimately it’s not something I’m keen to let happen without active involvement from the new Aboriginal Affairs Minister."

With the Cabinet unveiled and a majority in Parliament the new McGowan lead Government has the platform to implement major change Ben Wyatt certainly has the passion for the role something many feel has been lacking in previous years.

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