NIT EDITORIAL: Congratulations to Reconciliation WA for hosting a great event last Friday in Perth. It is certainly a step in the right direction on a very long journey towards equity and parity for the Indigenous people of Australia.
It was announced at the breakfast that the WA Police Force have signed a RAP and for this they received a generous round of applause from some of the attendees.
Other attendees were more reserved—hardly surprising, given that if you are an Indigenous young person living in Western Australia, you are 27 times more likely to be arrested than a non-Indigenous person.
In Western Australia, the incarceration rates of Indigenous people are shocking, the highest in the western world. The police have a lot to answer for, but it’s not entirely their fault. Western Australia’s antiquated and draconian laws have resulted in Indigenous people being continually arrested and imprisoned for not paying fines—among other minor offences—with the punishment far outweighing the crime. The taxpayer continues to foot the bill.
This will be the case so long as the Western Australian Government continues to operate with impunity, ignorance and disrespect when it comes to Indigenous issues.
It starts at the top.
The Western Australian Labor Government does not have Indigenous issues as one of its main priorities. This is obvious when you take into account that Premier Mark McGowan failed to attend the Reconciliation Breakfast on Friday morning but made the time and effort to attend the Western Australian of the Year Awards that same evening.
The Premier has so far shown little to no interest in the appalling situation many Indigenous people find themselves in WA.
Prior to the recent federal election, Premier McGowan hit the airwaves to praise Bill Shorten as the right man, with the right policies, to take Australia forward. But post-election, it was a different story. McGowan threw Shorten under a bus, criticising the scope and vision of Shorten’s initiatives and policies, some of which included creating a more inclusive and respectful country when it comes to Indigenous Australians.
Beware the fair-weather friend.
On the subject of initiatives and policies, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt received a standing ovation from the attendees of the Reconciliation Breakfast and he rightfully deserved one, given his challenging journey from childhood to becoming the first Indigenous Cabinet Minister. His speech highlighted the even more challenging road he is about to embark on.
There was one missing element — it became the elephant in the room.
Not once did the Minister mention or refer to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This, in spite of the fact that every attendee at the event was given an information pack that contained a copy of the statement. This, in spite of the fact that the statement is taking on the significance of the Magna Carta.
It is an aspirational document that both Indigenous and mainstream elements of Australian society have embraced as a road map to move forward cooperatively and respectively and by doing so, help right the wrongs of the past and present.
The Coalition Government so far has shown little inclination to embrace the Uluru Statement. By not doing so, the government is failing to acknowledge that Indigenous Australians have a right to self-determination and the right to participate on an equal basis.
This is going to be a major test for Wyatt.
Is he truly going to be the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and listen to the views of Indigenous people?
Or is he going to tow the party line?
The Minister’s speech indicates it will be the latter not the former. This is especially disappointing given that Rio Tinto and BHP at the same event made strong statements regarding the importance of the Uluru Statement and how it should be embraced.
This is not the first time that industry has called for government to be courageous and fair.
Let us hope it is not the last.
However, let us also hope that Minister Wyatt recognises this remarkable and historic opportunity to change the lives of Indigenous people in Australia. Let us hope he grasps this opportunity with both hands and does what is right, rather than grovel to his political masters.