In just over a month, Western Australia's Aboriginal community has been rocked by a series of events. Yet, in this tumultuous period, our Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Dr Tony Buti, has been conspicuously absent.
The referendum on the Voice saw WA flip from a supportive state to one of the least supportive. This reversal has deeply saddened and disheartened many Elders and leaders within the community.
Tragedies such as the deaths of Wayne Ugle and 16-year-old Cleveland Dodd in custody have further compounded the grief. These incidents have sparked outcry, protests, and petitions, highlighting the dire situation in places like the infamous Unit 18.
Campaigns against the jailing of children in adult prisons and to raise the age of detention have gathered momentum, with thousands supporting these causes. Meanwhile, we commemorated the anniversary of Cassius Turvey's death, a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggles faced by our community.
Throughout all this, Dr. Buti's absence has been deafening. Despite his impressive credentials, he has been markedly detached from these critical issues, choosing instead to attend events like the 92nd Waroona Agricultural Show, as evidenced by an Instagram video showcasing his visit.
"We got to show him a few cows," says the local MLA touring him around on show-day.
While the Waroona show is important to its community of 4600 people, it pales in comparison to the urgent needs of the Aboriginal community. Dr Buti's last significant parliamentary contribution on Aboriginal affairs dates back to September 20, focusing on the repeal of controversial heritage legislation. Since then, his engagement has been minimal.
There was a short statement where he patted himself on the back for resolving the stolen wages issue by choosing to award the lowest level of the contingent liability identified by the WA Treasury. But that's it in this entire time.
This lack of action is bewildering, especially considering Dr Buti's known capabilities and compassionate heart.
Frankly, it now it falls upon Premier Cook, long known as an advocate for the Aboriginal community, to reevaluate his choice for Minister. The current landscape demands a leader who is not only engaged but also actively addresses the community's needs.
Dr Buti, it seems, would be more at home among the pastoral tranquility than in the throes of addressing the myriad of issues facing Aboriginal people. Perhaps a shift to a more suitable role, out in the pastures, where his apparent preference for rural idylls can be fully embraced, would allow for a more dedicated and effective leadership in this crucial portfolio.
Zak Kirkup is the former leader of the WA Liberal Party