In a Australian first, an Indigenous person has been appointed as the minister for Indigenous affairs.
Ken Wyatt, a Noongar man from Western Australia, received a thunderous reception from his fellow parliamentarians as he was sworn into cabinet at the governor-general's Canberra home this week. Beyond being the first Indigenous minister of Indigenous affairs, Wyatt will also become the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander appointed to cabinet.
"Thank you to the prime minister and the people of Australia for this honor,” Wyatt wrote in a Twitter post. “I am committed to honoring our people, our cultures, our shared heritage, and all Australians.”
The member for Hasluck wore a traditional kangaroo skin cloak, known as a booka, during the initiation ceremony. The garment — which features red-tailed black cockatoo feathers and symbolizes Indigenous responsibility — was gifted to Wyatt by his Noongar elders.
Thank you to the Prime Minister and the people of Australia for this honour - to become the first Aboriginal person to be Minister for Indigenous Australians. I am committed to honouring our people, our cultures, our shared heritage and all Australians. pic.twitter.com/Pd3gSeJ9dd— Ken Wyatt MP (@KenWyattMP) May 29, 2019
Coincidentally, the ceremony was held on National Sorry Day, an annual event that commemorates the mistreatment of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. National Sorry Day also marks the beginning of Reconciliation Week: a time dedicated to fostering positive race relations.
Reconciliation Australia (RA) told Global Citizen Wyatt’s promotion during Reconciliation Week was especially meaningful.
"Wyatt’s appointment and elevation to cabinet is a good sign the new Morrison government is serious about advancing the reconciliation agenda,” an RA spokesperson stated. “Every year, hundreds of decisions and policies affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are made by the federal government. Indigenous politicians can bring important experience and expertise to bear on government decisions and policies which affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
In the days before Wyatt’s appointment, a historic partnership was signed between the Council of Australian Governments and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organizations.
The partnership, known as the Closing the Gap Partnership Agreement, will work to ensure representatives from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community are included in the “design, implementation, and monitoring” of targets that seek to close inequality gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Australia just swore in its first Aboriginal member of the federal cabinet.— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 29, 2019
Ken Wyatt is the first Aboriginal person to be named Minister for Indigenous Australians. pic.twitter.com/7oRMzv7rJp
RA and other prominent Indigenous organizations hope Wyatt will work to progress not only the closing the gap targets, but also the Voice to Parliament — a proposed Indigenous assembly that would be enshrined in the Australian Constitution.
"The partnership agreement signals a significant shift towards shared decision making,” RA stated. “Reconciliation Australia looks forward to working with the Prime Minister and Minister Wyatt to ensure that the aspirations of both First Nation people and the wider Australian public are met.”
The 46th parliament will sit for the first time on July 2.