Australia gets first indigenous Cabinet minister

Australia gets first indigenous Cabinet minister

Agency News

Canberra, May 28: Ken Wyatt was chosen this week to be Australia's minister for indigenous Australians, the first Aboriginal person ever to hold the role.

It's a historic appointment which also makes him the first indigenous Australian to sit in cabinet. Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcements as part of his revamped ministry, following a surprise election victory on May 18.

Many indigenous Australians are celebrating the elevation of Wyatt, a 66-year-old conservative MP, said a BBC News report. But deep challenges lie ahead for the newly appointed minister, as Australia grapples with major debates over indigenous recognition and inequality.

In 2010, Wyatt became the first Aboriginal man to be elected to the House of Representatives, winning the Western Australian seat of Hasluck. In his maiden speech, he wore something rarely seen in the parliament. It was a kangaroo skin coat, adorned with feathers of a red-tailed black cockatoo, known as a booka- a symbol of Aboriginal leadership, presented by elders.

He later became minister for aged care and indigenous health - an outer ministry position, meaning he did not sit in Cabinet. Before entering politics, the Noongar man worked as a primary school teacher and as a senior public health official.
His mother, Mona Abdullah, was one of the "Stolen Generations" - Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their parents under infamous government policies aimed at assimilation.

In Parliament, Wyatt has won respect for sticking to his beliefs even occasionally threatening to vote against his own party on specific issues. He has also sometimes drawn criticism, such as for resisting calls while aged care minister to mandate staffing levels in aged care facilities. Aged care settings are currently the subject of a national inquiry.
Wyatt has tweeted that he is "incredibly honoured" to serve in his new role.

Indigenous people make up about 3pc of Australia's population, but experts say their lack of parliamentary representation is not just because they're a minority.
It's rooted in Australia's colonial history and the systemic disenfranchisement of generations of indigenous people through government policy, says Associate Prof Dominic O'Sullivan from Charles Sturt University.

Many have cited Wyatt's work in health, aged care and education as evidence of his capability to improve indigenous people's lives. Indigenous Australians experience disproportionate levels of inequality on many measures, including life expectancy and rates of employment, schooling and incarceration.