Former Indigenous Affairs minister Ken Wyatt says progress towards enacting the Uluru Statement from the Heart will be greater over the next three years than it would have been had the Morrison government been re-elected.
Mr Wyatt made the prediction while speaking to the WA Mining Club on Wednesday in his first public speech since losing his seat in the May Federal election.
In the same speech he described not legislating for a national Voice to parliament as his biggest regret.
“We had the chance to do it but we didn’t,” he said.
The former minister predicted Australia would see “a substantial shift” in the ways Indigenous issues are addressed at a national level.
“I also think we will see increased polarisation …enabled by the media and the section of our population that is hungry for division,” Mr Wyatt said.
“I don’t know how many times I have to say it, but not all Indigenous people think the same.
“It is not a one size fits all, but local solutions and local pathways.”
Mr Wyatt said enacting the Uluru Statement would not be simple, nor would it be embraced by or benefit all Indigenous people equally.
“It’s a tough task… But I do think we see greater movement and progress to realising the Uluru Statement from the Heart in the next three years than we have if the Morrison government would have been re-elected,” he said.
“And that’s not me expressing any regret or reflecting on my former colleagues, it’s just a fact.”
He said it would take a great deal of work to achieve enacting the Uluru Statement in the first term of the new government.
Mr Wyatt congratulated Anthony Albanese, his ministerial successor Linda Burney and assistant Indigenous affairs minister Malarndirri McCarthy.
He acknowledged his “old friend” Senator Pat Dodson becoming Special Envoy for Reconciliation and the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“Government was an incredible and humbling experience, and I never took it for granted,” Mr Wyatt said.
“My 12 years in parliament, four in the ministry and three in cabinet were a journey… a story I hope to tell in a more fulsome way in the future.”
Mr Wyatt said he felt honoured and humbled as the first Aboriginal minister for Indigenous Australians.
He said he stood by his record, including the new national agreement on closing the gap with shared responsibility and shared accountability.
“At the centre of the national agreement are four priority reforms that focus on changing the way the three tiers of government engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Mr Wyatt said.
“These reforms will strengthen formal partnerships… transforming Australian government organisations so they work better for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and co-design with them, and improve and shares access to data and information to enable ATSI communities to make informed decisions.”
Mr Wyatt said he was proud of delivering self-determination for the people of Jabiru in Kakadu, resolving six Northern Territory land claims which had been “left languishing for decades”, reforming Indigenous employment programs, delivering redress for Stolen Generations survivors in the Territories, returning hundreds of objects and artefacts to Traditional Owners, and doubling the number of Indigenous rangers.
He also said “getting the flag back” from a licensing dispute was a proud moment.
Asked what message Peter Dutton’s boycott of the apology to the Stolen Generations sent to the Indigenous community, Mr Wyatt said the walkout by some Coalition MPs had been “noticeable”.
“When we were watching the apology, we could see people get up and leave. And when I went into the House, I spoke to two of them and in hindsight they regretted what they did,” he said.
“I didn’t talk to Peter about his removal from the chamber, but I noticed he acknowledged that he should not have done it.
“A lot of it is to do with a lack of understanding of what the apology was really about and what it meant. It was more of a political consideration, their reaction to it. Time has now passed, and there is an opportunity to build from that.”