PDF printable version of Transcript of interview on NITV with Allan Clarke (PDF 248 KB)
5 April 2017
Allan Clarke: In the past year we’ve seen more Indigenous people enter the Australian Parliament than ever before. Through this season of The Point we want to sit down with each of the five members – and tonight we start the series with the country’s first Indigenous person into the Commonwealth ministry.
Well after been sworn in as the Federal Minister for Indigenous Health and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt has made history yet again. Political correspondent Nakari Thorpe caught up with him at Parliament House.
Reporter: Draped in kangaroo skin Ken Wyatt was sworn in earlier this year …
Ken Wyatt: I, Kenneth George Wyatt, do swear that I will well and truly serve the people of Australia …
Reporter: … making him the first Federal Indigenous minister in Australia’s history.
Ken Wyatt: Don’t know if my parents were alive - my mother would be just absolutely full of pride that I’d have to keep reminding her to stay grounded.
Reporter: His political career began in 2010 when he became the first Indigenous Member of the House of Representatives.
Ken Wyatt: I made a comment and I don’t see myself as a historic figure.
Reporter: However, historic it was. In his maiden speech he recognised the significance of this moment.
Ken Wyatt: When the former Prime Minister delivered the apology on 13 February 2008, in this chamber, I shed tears for my mother and her siblings. My mother and her siblings along with many others did not live to hear the words delivered in the apology.
Reporter: Now, seven years on he’s a political success story.
Ken Wyatt: I want to start by saying that I’m proud of this and the previous government’s commitment to the national Aboriginal …
Reporter: Having a real impact in politics and health policy. Today, he’s meeting with the heads of specialist medical colleges from around the country, but some days even he wonders how this came about.
Ken Wyatt: If I was that 10-year-old kid with those skinny ankles that we’re famous for, and somebody had said to me you’re going to end up in the Australian Parliament or you’re going to end up being a minister in somebody’s government, I would have said no, it will never happen. It’s not possible …
Rod Little: He gets it. He has come from some of the environments that we’ve come from and I think that is one of the difficulties that we have when it comes to politicians who make a presumption that they know what’s best for us.
Reporter: A Noongar Yamatji man from Western Australia, Ken was born in Bunbury in 1952. The son of a railway granger and a domestic worker he was the eldest of ten. His mother grew up on the Roelands Mission. After Ken was born the family moved to the railway station at Nannine, then to Corrigin where he went to school. He excelled and with the encouragement of teachers and the local community he was sponsored to finish the last two years of high school in Perth. He trained as a teacher then moved into Indigenous health policy.
Ken Wyatt: Being able to talk on issues when they arise within the Party Room or support colleagues who will come and say to me; can I ask you a question or can I seem your advice on a matter in my electorate – what do I do? And so I work with them in helping them to better connect with Aboriginal communities and organisations.
Reporter: He was inspired by Australia’s very first Aboriginal Federal politician, the late Queensland Senator, Neville Bonner.
Ken Wyatt: I watched Neville’s career and I got to know Neville and he was just an incredibly gentle man within the work that he did. I asked him about some of the challenges and he experienced some incredible challenges whilst he worked in the Parliament. And that’s why I thought I’d never go into politics.
Reporter: But he did, finding his way around the Parliament and the Australian political processes. As tough as domestic politics is here at Federal Parliament, Ken notes that Indigenous politics is tougher still. In fact he sees his toughest critics as his own community.
Ken Wyatt: Our mob are more demanding of us, they’re more harsher in their words and they tell it like it is. If they think you’re getting too big for your boots, you know, the expressions they sometimes use, and I’m more nervous of addressing 500 of them than I am 500 non-Indigenous leaders.
Reporter: Despite the challenges Ken remains devoted to the cause.
Ken Wyatt: I’ve got to try and balance family life commitments and that’s also both my sons as well as the needs of the constituents of Hasluck. But also for me Indigenous constituents across the country because a lot of our people call through this door and I think a legacy I’ll leave is the fact that Federal members that I work with have acknowledged the importance of Aboriginal people in this House. That’s why we now have five of us.
Reporter: And Ken says it will only be a matter of time before we see an Indigenous prime minister.
Ken Wyatt: I think that within two decades we will have a outstanding Indigenous leader who will come into this place, whose peers will say we think that you are worthy of support for a journey into leadership.
Reporter: To Ken the importance of having Indigenous voices represented far outweighs which party you stand for.
Ken Wyatt: Because when we’re elected we’re in here as an equal to any other peer and we’ve made it by virtue of the fact that we’ve been able to tell people that we are worthy of their support. And because of that we can then stand and say that I was elected in the same way as you. I have a voice. I have ideas and I have plans for the future. And that’s been a very powerful journey for me.
Reporter: As Ken’s journey continues his hope is that others will follow in his footsteps.
[End of excerpt]
Allan Clarke: Ken Wyatt joins us now from Noongar country in Perth. Ken, first of all congratulations. It’s only taken two centuries. But Indigenous health is an enormous challenge. Is that a daunting role for you to be taking on?
Ken Wyatt: Both portfolios are daunting. But the challenge for Aboriginal health is looking at what we’ve been doing, what’s worked – celebrate what works, but then focus on areas that we’ve still got more to do. But one thing I do want to do is I want to focus on nought to 17-year-olds because I think that if we take the journey from birth through to leaving school, we’ve got a great cohort to build strength, improve health and focus on health outcomes. But I equally want to focus on social and emotional wellbeing and strengthening pride of culture, pride of itself and knowing that we’ve got the capability and capacity to walk a journey that is safe and fits within our thinking.
Allan Clarke: And I mean we can’t talk about I guess Indigenous health without talking about Closing the Gap and every year the gap seems to be widening Ken. And a lot of the community are telling me that they feel like it’s a bit of a lip service every year, I mean the Government isn’t really committed. Is that something you want to tackle, I guess within the first year of your appointment?
Ken Wyatt: It is. Look I think governments have always been committed. The translation is taking it from policy direction, strategic statements, to making it work on the ground. I want to be able to walk into an organisation and hear them say to me, we’re doing a great job in improving outcomes. It doesn’t matter whether it’s health or any other aspect of our life. But I then want to be able to walk out of that organisation, walk around the community and see that everybody is benefiting from what it is that I’m told that both governments are wanting to deliver, what our communities want but what our organisations are delivering. What I don’t want to see is any child or any family still living with the same health problems and living in the same conditions that we should have moved on from since 1972.
Allan Clarke: Well, let’s hope we see some of those results. Now, the last month it’s been pretty rocky for the Coalition. I guess the debate around 18C has generated a lot of discussion, particularly online within the Indigenous community and a lot of Aboriginal people talking about how racism affects their health. I mean, you know, is the Government serious enough about racism, particularly when a debate like the 18C one has sort of dominated I guess the Coalition?
Ken Wyatt: Look racism does impact. And I have asked the department and particularly my officers to focus on the socioeconomic factors that impact on our health, but I’ve also charged them with looking at the impact of racism on our health, how it distracts from accessing mainstream services, how it impacts on an individual’s self worth and sense of pride and in addressing those, then start to tackle the issues that racism does affect the health outcomes. I want to reflect on the [indistinct] event, had triage been followed in that hospital which is the standard practice, then we would have seen a treatment process go into place. So that’s what I want to change. I really want to challenge the way in which we’ve been subjected to forms of racism that doesn’t see optimum pathways through healthcare in hospitals or healthcare in any health providers services. I want the best outcome for the journey of any healing that has to happen.
Allan Clarke: And just before you go, we’ve got a record number of Indigenous people in Federal Parliament, however, on your side of the fence it’s a bit lonely. Would you like to see more Indigenous people in your team so to speak?
Ken Wyatt: Allan, I’m working on that and I know there are a number of young Indigenous men and women who are very keen to find seats within the Coalition and they’re working at shoring up their place for consideration and pre-selection. So I just hope within the next decade we see a lot more in all three major parties because it’s great to have that reflection in our Parliament.
Allan Clarke: I agree. Well thank you very much for joining us, Ken.
Ken Wyatt: It’s been a pleasure, Allan. Thank you.
PDF printable version of Transcript of interview on NITV with Allan Clarke (PDF 248 KB)