Five Questions with Ben Wyatt

In 2015, Twitter Hosts by IndigenousX

Ben Wyatt was Indigenous X host from March 19 to March 31.


Five questions to Ben Wyatt

My name is Ben Wyatt; I am a Yamatji man, I am the member for Victoria Park, the shadow treasurer and shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs in Western Australia. I am responsible for scrutinising the WA Barnett government’s policies on the state’s finances, Indigenous issues, and proposing Labor party policy in this space. In order to do this job effectively, I believe it is my responsibility to engage and consult our communities as much as possible. I therefore make it a priority to visit and meet with as many Aboriginal people and organisations as I can.
There is plenty to talk about on Indigenous affairs at the moment. The reaction to Tony Abbott’s comments on remote communities continues to generate debate around the closure of 150 communities in Western Australia. While the prime minister’s comments showed huge disrespect of Aboriginal people and a lack of understanding of the importance of cultural obligations, it has brought national attention to the plans of the Western Australian state government to close 150 remote communities. I have travelled through the Kimberley and spoken with some of the communities that may be impacted and, to this date, they are still to be consulted. Aboriginal leadership is always ready and willing to engage with government but wants to be engaged, not ordered or dictated to. I am worried about a bullying tone that has entered the political debate in respect of Aboriginal affairs and hope that “consultation” does not simply become the government of the day informing Aboriginal people of their decisions.

This week, the Western Australian parliament will begin debating the Barnett government’s Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Act 2014. I have been very critical of this legislation, as it has no consideration whatsoever for the aspirations of Aboriginal people in respect of our heritage, and removes our ability to make decisions when it comes to our heritage sites. There seems to be almost no community support for this legislation. Again, it shows that the Barnett government is completely unwilling to engage and consult with Aboriginal people on issues that have a direct impact on their lives. What frustrates me, and other Aboriginal people, is that there is broad consensus that this legislation is in dire need of modernisation. However, the WA government has missed a huge opportunity to bring Aboriginal people into the heritage architecture in WA.

Dad, who was a member of the stolen generation, worked tirelessly for Aboriginal people and Aboriginal causes for over 40 years, right up until his death last year. I am very lucky to have had parents who valued education above all. They made many sacrifices so that my sister and I could receive a world class education. Without them I would not have had the opportunities that I have had: travel, law, parliament.
I believe that we need to rethink the way that governments interact with Aboriginal people. Government is often hopelessly bound by the creation of processes. The creation of processes is likely to deliver some outcomes, but without a clear target of success, we can never really know whether these processes are achieving the highest results. We have seen clear examples recently (at both the state and federal level) of governments removing Aboriginal people from contributing, or having any kind of voice in policies that have a direct impact on their lives. We need to turn this conversation around, and put Aboriginal people at the centre of policy making in areas that affect their lives.
I hope that we can move to a genuine stage of reconciliation in Australia. Every day we watch a “welcome to country” and celebrate the launch of reconciliation action plans. But we still have not managed to move to a stage where Aboriginal people are respected for their cultural history. Australia, as a country, is best known around the world for its natural heritage and its Aboriginal heritage. These are assets of all Australia and need to be part of the value we place in our national assets.

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