The Politics    Friday, July 12, 2019

Wyatt’s voice

By Paddy Manning

Wyatt’s voice

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt. Source: Twitter

It is untenable for the Coalition to reject the Uluru statement twice

It makes no sense whatsoever for the prime minister to appoint Ken Wyatt as the first Indigenous minister for Indigenous Australians, give him his head on a bipartisan approach to a referendum in a major speech at the National Press Club, then, within 48 hours, veto the one position about which those who devised the Uluru Statement from the Heart feel most strongly about – namely, a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice to parliament. It is too easy to conclude that here we have another example of the same diabolical policy-wrecking dynamic we’ve seen over the last five years from the Coalition, in which the conservative wing maintains the upper hand because it is most willing to have a hissy fit and, if it comes to it, threaten the government’s narrow majority. But not even the Coalition could expect Indigenous Australians to suffer a summary rejection of the Uluru statement  – not once but twice – and then participate with goodwill in some kind of faux consultation around yet another alternative.

It is all too easy to throw off a policy debate, of course. In 2010, remember, someone inside the government killed off Labor’s emissions trading scheme by prematurely tipping off Lenore Taylor, then at The Sydney Morning Herald, that the scheme would be shelved for three years. All hell broke loose that the Rudd government would duck the greatest moral challenge of our time. Years later, in the ABC’s The Killing Season, Rudd was clear about the impact of that story – in fact, he said, he had not yet made a final decision and clearly somebody wanted to make it for him. (In his memoir, he writes that that somebody was Julia Gillard.)

Today we have an off-the-record government source telling [$] The Australian that the prime minister has made clear that a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament is “not going to happen on his watch”. Then we have a pile-on of commentators – along with some heavyweights, like Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton – spelling out why. And Ken Wyatt, on day two, trying to create some wiggle room for a bipartisan [$] process. That is no way to run a government. Perhaps the PM’s mind really is made up on this question, and he will never allow a constitutionally voice to parliament, but if that’s the case he should say so explicitly.

Wyatt today is urging pragmatism and saying that a legislated – rather than constitutionally entrenched – voice to parliament may be a better way forward. On the Labor side, both Linda Burney and Patrick Dodson have said and written that the Uluru Statement from the Heart must be delivered in full – and that means not just the voice to parliament, but a First Nations treaty and a truth-telling Makarrata commission. Dodson wrote yesterday that First Nations people have “always been the first victims of debilitating government procrastination”. The voice is just the first step, and Burney explained on Sky News Australia last night that it has to be enshrined in the Constitution so that it cannot be as easily abolished as ATSIC was by John Howard in 2005. Then she reminded everybody why the voice is necessary:

“On every single social rung – it doesn’t matter whether it’s health outcomes, education outcomes, overcrowding, domestic violence, life expectancy – Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders are on the bottom rung. And that is because there has not been Aboriginal people at the table helping design the legislation and advise on legislation and programs. And that’s what this voice is actually about.”

Unless the prime minister wants Burney and Dodson on the warpath, he would be best to reconsider that veto and stick to the genuine consultation process he has tasked Wyatt with running.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“So @PeterDutton_MP … why aren’t the police still investigating the leak of classified ASIO advice during the Medevac debate in February?”

Shadow minister for home affairs Kristina Keneally gets at Peter Dutton over his comment on Nine’s Today show this morning that the AFP is justified in pursuing leaks to ABC and News Corp journalists because “nobody is above the law and the police have a job to do under the law”.

“Some people are currently having issues accessing myGov. We are urgently investigating the issue and will keep you updated here. We apologise for any inconvenience. Please try again later.”

A myGov tweet after the system crashed this morning as thousands of Australians try to lodge their tax returns in anticipation of refunds, including the tax cut of up to $1080.

A voice and a prayer
Scott Morrison began the week praying in front of 21,000 people. He closed it promising a referendum on Indigenous recognition.


The average household wealth in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ annual Survey of Income and Housing. This is the first time in history that the metric has passed the $1 million mark.

“I [reject] the submission that the critical question for a native title representative body in forming the opinion required by s 205BE(5)(a) is ‘whether the efforts taken were reasonable in the sense of identifying, both inclusively and exclusively, every person of [Indigenous] descent who may hold native title, or otherwise has a characteristic from which it is reasonable to conclude they hold native title in the agreement area’.”

Justice Melissa Perry, in today’s Federal Court ruling dismissing an appeal by five Wangan and Jagalingou people against Adani Mining’s Indigenous land-use agreement.

The list

“Emotion is a contained background hum in this small-town crime story, as the characters step forward, chapter by chapter, to explain themselves. As they do, knowledge shifts, facts clatter into place. Lalami’s focus is the America that is emerging from the first two decades of this century, and what could be more intimate than translating into some truth the infinite tissue of lies that we tell ourselves and others.”

“Never mind that the private sector would never build an NBN, or that the current market structure was flawed, or that government had a successful history of fixed-line infrastructure building. The view from News Limited’s side of the table was that the government just shouldn’t be building this sort of public infrastructure. News Limited was not alone in its position.”

“Ben Shenton had been waiting a long time for her to die. A devout and contemplative Christian, given to rumination on grace, he even had his wife wondering if he had been waiting a little too earnestly. But when the news finally came three weeks ago, he felt relief – and satisfaction that Anne Hamilton-Byrne would finally face judgement before God. The leader of the luridly destructive cult The Family had died, aged 97.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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