Wy­att’s chal­lenge to ‘dis­con­nected’ ur­ban ac­tivists

The Australian - - HENRY ERGAS - PAIGE TAYLOR

Ken Wy­att has is­sued a blunt chal­lenge to city-based in­dige­nous or­gan­i­sa­tions, ac­cus­ing them of be­ing dis­con­nected from the re­al­ity of daily life for dis­ad­van­taged Abo­rig­ines in re­mote and re­gional Aus­tralia.

The Min­is­ter for In­dige­nous Australian­s yes­ter­day sought to em­pha­sise that some in­dige­nous peo­ple in re­mote towns and com­mu­ni­ties did not have ac­cess to ba­sic health­care and ser­vices. He cited two el­derly artists in Balgo who waited two years for cataract surgery, a woman in the Kim­ber­ley who died from a boil that be­came in­fected, the case of chil­dren liv­ing in a firedam­aged house and a woman in Alice Springs who was prac­ti­cally blind for want of a $19 pair of spectacles.

Mr Wy­att said he had been “blunt” with the lead­er­ship of some in­dige­nous or­gan­i­sa­tions about their con­nec­tions to the peo­ple they rep­re­sented.

Ken Wy­att has is­sued a blunt chal­lenge to city-based in­dige­nous or­gan­i­sa­tions, ac­cus­ing them of be­ing dis­con­nected from the re­al­ity of daily life for dis­ad­van­taged Abo­rig­ines in re­mote and re­gional Aus­tralia.

The Min­is­ter for In­dige­nous Australian­s yes­ter­day sought to em­pha­sise that some in­dige­nous peo­ple in re­mote towns and com­mu­ni­ties did not have ac­cess to ba­sic health­care and ser­vices.

He cited two el­derly artists in the north­ern Aus­tralian com­mu­nity of Balgo who waited two years for cataract surgery, a woman in the Kim­ber­ley who died from a boil that be­came in­fected, the case of chil­dren liv­ing in a firedam­aged house “full of soot” and a woman in Alice Springs who was prac­ti­cally blind for want of a $19 pair of spectacles from a chemist.

Mr Wy­att said he had been “blunt” with the lead­er­ship of some in­dige­nous or­gan­i­sa­tions about their con­nec­tions to the peo­ple they rep­re­sented.

“I have said to some of the in­dige­nous lead­er­ship: ‘When was the last time you sat with a group of in­dige­nous peo­ple in the com­mu­nity in­stead of your own or­gan­i­sa­tion?’” he said.

The com­ments may cre­ate ten­sion be­tween Mr Wy­att and ur­ban in­dige­nous weeks af­ter he was feted as the first in­dige­nous Aus­tralian re­spon­si­ble for in­dige­nous af­fairs in a fed­eral govern­ment.

The Uluru State­ment from the Heart that calls for a voice to par­lia­ment to be en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion was the cul­mi­na­tion of 12 re­gional dia­logues in 2017, and at each meet­ing of about 100 peo­ple, about 60 were tra­di­tional own­ers from the lo­cal area.

Peak in­dige­nous bod­ies were not in­vited to send rep­re­sen­ta­tives to take part in the dia­logues, al­though powerful lead­ers from the Abo­rig­i­nal and non-Abo­rig­i­nal world have backed the Uluru state­ment.

One of those is lead­ers is Roy Ah See, co-chair of the Prime Min­is­ter’s In­dige­nous Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil, who said yes­ter­day that in­dige­nous or­gan­i­sa­tions were “only as good as the peo­ple that are run­ning them, and give up their time to con­trib­ute”.

Jac­inta Price, a Warlpiri-Celtic woman and di­rec­tor of in­dige­nous re­search at the Cen­tre for In­de­pen­dent Stud­ies, said it was fair for Mr Wy­att to ask in­dige­nous or­gan­i­sa­tions how of­ten they lis­ten to their com­mu­nity, given he was re­spon­si­ble for fund­ing so many of them.

“Good on him. I’ve been wait­ing for an in­dige­nous af­fairs min­is­ter to take that ap­proach,” she said.

Ms Price, a for­mer Lib­eral can­di­date, said some groups claimed to rep­re­sent the voices of in­dige­nous peo­ple but were out of touch.

In­dige­nous peo­ple em­power them­selves rather than be­come em­pow­ered by the Con­sti­tu­tion, she told The Aus­tralian.

“Some­times when you hear di­rectly from peo­ple on the ground, it is cer­tainly con­trary to what­ever is pop­u­lar in the me­dia and ide­o­log­i­cal thought,” Ms Price said.

Sup­port­ers of the Uluru state­ment in­clude min­ing gi­ant BHP, which con­tributed $1 mil­lion to­wards an ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign.

Other sup­port­ers of a con­sti­tu­tion­ally en­shrined in­dige­nous voice to par­lia­ment in­clude in­dige­nous and non-in­dige­nous lead­ers in their fields such as Gil­bert + Tobin co-founder Danny Gil­bert, Cape York lawyer Noel Pear­son, con­sti­tu­tional law ex­pert Me­gan Davis and for­mer High Court judge Mur­ray Glee­son.

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