Ken Wyatt Indigenous
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

With the re-election of Ken Wyatt to parliament and his subsequent appointment by the Prime Minister to the role of Minister for Indigenous Australians, we are being told that we have a leader. We have “one of us” holding the role in government that affects us the most, and we should be rejoicing at this fact because representation is seen as a win.

But representation is meaningless if it does not carry with it the responsibility to affect change.

To those who think Ken Wyatt is a leader, I say that “leader” is a word that is both a verb and a noun. The “leaders” of Australia are so because of a position — the noun. Our leaders in the Indigenous community, who certainly do not call themselves leaders, are so because of what they do — the verb.

The issues that face Indigenous people, compared to those that face mainstream Australia, are vast. Apples and oranges. This is not a criticism or a statement to induce guilt, but a mere fact. Mainstream Australia understandably concerns itself with the rising cost of living, jobs, and power and housing affordability. We concern ourselves with our youth detention and suicide rates, our land loss and the social issues gripping our communities — which are borne of desolation as a result of successive government policies.

While Ken Wyatt may hold a certain position and be touted as our leader, his actions will be the test to the Indigenous community. We do not consider leaders based on the status of a role. We expect proven commitment to community, and the community that Ken Wyatt serves is yet to be seen. His voting history tells us that he serves LNP voters, not the Indigenous community. 

Australian leaders are usually politicians and others who reach a certain rank or role and are inherently accepted as leaders. They are afforded a platform and their right to use this platform is rarely called into question. These leaders can speak on issues of which they have no expertise, they can make decisions affecting people that they do not know and have not spoken with, and they can behave in a manner unbecoming for a leader — and yet they retain the position and title.

Leaders in the mainstream Australian community can be clear sycophants that are seeking elevation for their personal gain, their ego and their own material interests. They can be demonstrated hypocrites by speaking of the importance of family values while flouting them personally. They can speak of the importance of human rights but breach international laws and treaties in their treatment of asylum seekers and First Nations. 

An Australian “leader” is a title, it is not a responsibility — and even if it was, it has been so long since the Australian people have had a leader capable of handling the responsibility for action that the title entails.

Your leaders get to make a mockery of the position you trusted them with. Our leaders are on the front-lines seeking no individual recognition. They are doing the tireless work, day in and day out, to try to make a change for our communities so that we do not continue to lose our young ones to hopelessness; so that our families are not punished for living in conditions of poverty; so that the battles fought by our ancestors are not for nothing.

Leadership is something that doesn’t sit terribly well with the Indigenous community, not because we don’t have a similar concept of it within our social constructs (we do and call them elders) but because there doesn’t appear to be the same correlation of responsibility with the role as it does in our community. When someone is an elder in our community, they are not elected, they progress to that role having proven themselves for decades. This position gives them great respect, sure, but the responsibility is tremendous also.

If Ken Wyatt is ever to be considered a leader in the eyes of the broader Indigenous community, he has to rise to the responsibility of the role. He needs to take steps to educate those around him, decolonise thinking and political structures, liaise with communities and implement policies that are needed by Indigenous communities because they requested them — not because they are imposed by politicians who have no concept of community.

Ken Wyatt could be a good leader in the future. But being successful in the white political system does not equate to leadership in our communities. We are watching and hoping that his responsibility to community outweighs any individual pursuit of the title.

Peter Fray

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