Australia

Ken Wyatt: The rise of Australia's first indigenous minister

Key Wyatt before delivering his maiden speech to parliament in 2010 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Key Wyatt before delivering his maiden speech to parliament in 2010

Ken Wyatt, the first indigenous Australian to enter Australia's House of Representatives, has now become its first indigenous minister.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday promoted Mr Wyatt to an aged care and indigenous health portfolio, following a government reshuffle triggered by an expenses scandal.

"His extensive knowledge and experience as a senior public servant in indigenous health, coupled with his work as an assistant minister in this portfolio, makes him an ideal minister for this area," Mr Turnbull said.

Greg Hunt, who takes up health and sport in the reshuffle, described Mr Wyatt's appointment as a "signature moment for Australia".

Mr Wyatt said he was deeply honoured to take on "two crucial portfolios".

Maiden speech

A former teacher and public servant, Mr Wyatt joined the Liberal Party before claiming the Western Australian seat of Hasluck by fewer than 1,000 votes in 2010.

In his maiden speech to parliament, Mr Wyatt, wearing a kangaroo skin coat, credited education with offering him the chance to succeed in life.

"I have been a battler for most of my life but I have always driven myself to be successful in order to achieve my dreams," he said.

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Image caption Mr Wyatt with Barack Obama during the US president's visit to Australia in 2011

During the speech he thanked Kevin Rudd, a former Labor prime minister, for his 2008 official apology to the Stolen Generations - the thousands of indigenous children who were forcibly removed from their families by successive governments until the late 1960s.

Mr Wyatt's mother, Mona, was among them.

"My mother and her siblings, along with many others, did not live to hear the words delivered in the apology, which would have meant a great deal to them individually," Mr Wyatt said, adding he shed tears during the apology.

He also paid tribute to his father, Don, who served in World War Two before working on West Australia's railways, for helping to raise the family's 10 children.

Parliamentary career

Mr Wyatt was returned to his seat in federal elections in 2013 and 2016, and was appointed the assistant minister for health and aged care in September 2015.

His electorate covers a 1,192 sq km (460 sq miles) area extending from Perth's east.

He backed the rise of Mr Turnbull, who ousted predecessor Tony Abbott in 2015, but has praised Mr Abbott's work in indigenous affairs.

Mr Wyatt has supported the push to recognise indigenous Australians in the constitution.

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Image caption Mr Wyatt first entered parliament after a tight contest in 2010

He has resisted calls within his own party to repeal a controversial racial discrimination law that makes it illegal to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" people on the basis of race, colour or ethnic origin.

Despite making a strong argument against the push in August, Mr Wyatt has since made comments suggesting he could be prepared to support it.

The Guardian said Mr Wyatt was one of five current indigenous Australians in parliament, along with Labor politicians Pat Dodson, Malarndirri McCarthy and Linda Burney, and independent Jacqui Lambie.

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