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Cook's missed opportunity as Buti sits on the brink

Zak Kirkup -

This week brought a wave of minor changes to the Western Australian Cabinet, as announced by Premier Roger Cook. These alterations came in the wake of Bill Johnston's departure. However, this shift presented a missed opportunity for Premier Cook to refresh his team more substantially, especially in critical areas such as Aboriginal Affairs, currently under the stewardship of Minister Tony Buti.

Previously, Bill Johnston, before moving to his roles in Mines and Petroleum, Energy & IR, had overseen the Corrective Services portfolio during a tumultuous period for the Banksia Hill detention facility. This facility, known for its significant overrepresentation of Indigenous children, has faced ongoing crises, including destructive riots and incidents of self-harm.

Johnston, who has decided not to run in the 2025 state election, stepped down from his cabinet role, creating an opening for Premier Cook. This was a prime moment for a comprehensive reshuffle of his Ministry, yet the response was more conservative.

Hannah Beazley is stepping into the cabinet to fill Johnston's shoes. The Beazley family is somewhat of a Labor dynasty in WA, synonymous with long-standing public service. With her appointment, there's a palpable mix of hope and expectation, both within the party and among the public, for what she might bring to a government that has struggled to emerge from the shadow of former Premier Mark McGowan.

Under Premier Cook's leadership, the administration has been characterised by a series of missteps and missed opportunities. This recent cabinet reshuffle was another such moment. The time was ripe for Cook to revitalise his team, particularly by replacing ministers like Dr Tony Buti, who have been widely perceived as underperforming. This hesitation should become a point of summer-holiday reflection for the Premier as he navigates the political landscape in the lead-up to the next election.

There's ongoing speculation that other ministers might also step down, paving the way for new faces and potentially injecting fresh energy into the government's re-election campaign. Many argue that Dr Buti should be the first to make way, given the widespread view that he has failed to effect meaningful change for Aboriginal people in Western Australia.

Despite his promising rhetoric in opposition and as a backbencher, his tenure as a minister has been a significant disappointment.

Looking ahead, if there's another opportunity for cabinet changes before the 2025 campaign, Premier Cook should seriously consider appointing Divina D'Anna as the next Aboriginal Affairs Minister.

Representing the Kimberley region, D'Anna, a Yawuru, Nimanburr, and Bardi woman raised in Broome, is known for her straightforward and effective approach to politics. Already serving as Parliamentary Secretary to Deputy Premier Rita Saffioti, equally forthright, she has demonstrated her capability and earned considerable trust within the community.

Premier Cook is undoubtedly passionate and dedicated to advancing the welfare of the Aboriginal community in WA. Yet, it's become evident over the past year he's been let down by his current Aboriginal Affairs Minister.

In stark contrast, Ms D'Anna has been a relentless advocate for Aboriginal people in Parliament and directly to ministers and public servants. She is seen as a beacon of progress and potential, she is undoubtedly the future: whereas Dr Buti is increasingly fading into the past.

Zak Kirkup is a Yamatji man and a former leader of the WA Liberal Party

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