• Prime Minister Scott Morrison Minister and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt pose for a photo after being sworn at Government House. (AAP)Source: AAP
Deep challenges lie ahead for the incoming minister as Australia grapples with debates over Indigenous recognition and inequality.
NITV Staff Writer

29 May 2019 - 1:57 PM  UPDATED 29 May 2019 - 1:57 PM

Ken Wyatt received a standing ovation from coalition MPs as he officially became minister for Indigenous Australians today.

The appointment makes Mr Wyatt the first Indigenous person to oversee the portfolio and the first to sit in cabinet.

Wearing a booka – a traditional kangaroo skin cloak given to him by the Noongar people of south-west WA – the minister was sworn in by Governor-General Peter Cosgrove in Canberra this morning. 

“I, Kenneth George Wyatt, do swear that I will well and truly serve the people of Australia in the office of Minister for Indigenous Australians, and that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, so help me God,” he said.

Pat Turner, co-chair of a new joint council formed between Indigenous peak bodies and state and federal governments to re-design 'Closing the Gap' targets, said her “heart grew big with pride” when Mr Wyatt’s appointment was announced.

“Ken brings a depth of experience in Aboriginal education, health and policy, but of course the one thing he has that none of the previous office holders have ever had is that he is Indigenous,” she said.

Karen Mundine, the CEO of Reconciliation Australia, said the appointment of Mr Wyatt was “significant”.

“Ken Wyatt is highly respected for his hard work over many decades for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly in the health and education sectors,” she said.

“His elevation to Cabinet is a good sign that this new Morrison Government is serious about advancing the reconciliation agenda.”

Indigenous affairs commentator Stan Grant described the appointment as “fitting” and a “huge responsibility”.

 “You could only imagine the demands that are going to be made on him from all sides, and he cannot be all things to all people,” he told NITV.

“I suspect the biggest challenge for Ken Wyatt is going to be the ability to say no – say no, and mean it. That’s going to be tough.”

“It is an enormous breakthrough when we see … an Indigenous person now in cabinet to be able to try to take charge of what has been an often disastrous portfolio area when you look at the outcomes that Indigenous people have had to endure.”

However, some First Nations commentators remained cautious in their optimism surrounding Mr Wyatt's appointment:

Elsewhere, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has committed to “getting an outcome” on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but has given no timeframe on the process.

“My priorities for Indigenous Australians are to ensure Indigenous kids are in school and getting an education, that young Indigenous Australians are not taking their own lives and that there are real jobs for Indigenous Australians so they can plan for their future with confidence like any other Australian,” he said.

“Recognition must be achieved alongside these practical goals and we will continue to work together.”

The newly appointed leader of the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, has also offered to advance Indigenous recognition in a bipartisan manner.

“People want solutions, not arguments. They have conflict fatigue. Some reforms require bipartisan support,” he said.

"Our nation is diminished by not recognising First Australians in our constitution. And while Indigenous Australians are the most disadvantaged in our nation. Labor stands ready to cooperate on how we advance the agenda of the Uluru statement."

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