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Queensland's milestone: A beacon to follow

Zak Kirkup -

This week, Queensland's political landscape saw a refreshing change with the appointment of the new Premier, Steven Miles.

Following Anastasia Palecek's resignation, Miles's new cabinet is noteworthy for its inclusivity, particularly in representing First Nations Australians. The retention of Quandamooka woman Leeanne Enoch as Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships and the appointment of Lance McCallum as Minister for Employment and Small Business mark a significant stride. McCallum's inclusion not only makes him the first Aboriginal male Cabinet Minister in Queensland but also signifies an expanding Aboriginal presence in the state's government.

This development is a commendable step towards equality in Queensland's executive government, setting a positive trend that unfortunately finds no echo in Western Australia. In stark contrast, WA's Premier Roger Cook, succeeding Mark McGowan, has made negligible changes to his cabinet and indeed Aboriginal representation has gone backwards.

A glaring oversight is the non-inclusion of Davina D'Anna, a Yawuru woman and Member for Kimberley. D'Anna has already established herself as a great local MP, a formidable leader, demonstrating her advocacy skills and capabilities during the devastating Fitzroy Valley floods. Her popularity and competence, coupled with her Indigenous background, make her an ideal candidate for a cabinet position as Aboriginal Affairs Minister.

Sadly the status quo persists with Tony Buti as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Despite numerous complaints and unfulfilled promises, Buti's performance has been underwhelming, reflecting a broader trend within the WA Labor Party. Unlike Queensland, where Aboriginal people are increasingly assuming positions of influence, WA seems to be regressing.

Ben Wyatt, the former Aboriginal Affairs Minister and the first Indigenous Treasurer in any Australian Parliament, was replaced by Dr Buti. Moreover, the recent replacement of outgoing Senator and Yawuru man Patrick Dodson by a non-Indigenous candidate further underscores this backward step.

Unlike my own party (the Liberals), the Labor Party lauds its quota system for certain positions and yet this mechanism fails to extend to roles related to Aboriginal Affairs, even when there are qualified Aboriginal candidates available. This was evident in the rejection of an Indigenous candidate for the Senate by WA Labor and the continual decision by Premier Cook to overlook Davina D'Anna.

WA Labor's apparent commitment to the Voice to Parliament, advocating for Indigenous representation, seems hollow when it comes to actual decision-making for empowering Aboriginal individuals. When it's come for Labor to move off the platitudes and take some real action, it does very little to help the Aboriginal members of it's own party. And in so doing, the Aboriginal community continues to suffer, while WA Labor remains silent and inactive.

For the Liberal Party, facing our own preselection processes ahead of the 2025 state and federal elections, there is similarly a real opportunity for us to find good Indigenous candidates to fill winnable positions. In August last year, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton made the point that he was on a "recruiting drive" for "more diversity" in the Liberal Party at a state and federal level. The Opposition Leader knows that the country desperately wants more diversity in our party's ranks, including Indigenous MPs.

Queensland's recent cabinet reshuffle is a beacon of progressive governance. It demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion that the WA Government urgently needs to emulate. The time for meaningful change and genuine representation is now; anything less is a disservice to the Aboriginal community and a missed opportunity for the state.

Zak Kirkup is a Yamatji man, director of Kolbang, and former leader of the WA Liberal Party.

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