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Wyatt’s indigenous overhaul

Robert Isaacs has 30 years experience in advising the Government.
Robert Isaacs has 30 years experience in advising the Government.

Ben Wyatt says he is prepared to draw from his Aboriginality as political capital to make the tough decisions needed to overhaul indigenous affairs in WA.

The incoming Aboriginal Affairs Minister said he wanted to overhaul his department’s 1972 enabling legislation “soon” in recognition of a consensus between the agency and the indigenous community that the Act was outdated and irrelevant.

It comes as indigenous elder Robert Isaacs reveals he was written to Mr Wyatt to tell him it is critical he involve indigenous people in decisions that impact their lands and economic future.

Dr Isaacs, who is chairman of the Aboriginal Lands Trust, said indigenous affairs have “gone backwards” in WA in the past 15 years.

He said the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was “undermined and outstripped” by former premier Colin Barnett’s office. “We want Aboriginal affairs to be put back on track,” Dr Isaacs said.

“We want the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to be put back where it was, the body that recommends policies to the minister, not the Department of Premier and Cabinet which we’ve had problems with in the past.”

Mr Wyatt said he did not want to waste the opportunity.

“I’ve had a briefing from the department and get a real sense from the executive that they want to be able to have more of an impact in Aboriginal affairs and they accept as well that the legislation doesn’t allow them to do that,” he said.

“Having an Aboriginal minister means that we can perhaps make some decisions that would be otherwise tough to make in Aboriginal affairs.”

Ian Trust, chairman of the WA Aboriginal Advisory Council, said there had not been a clear vision about what was trying to be achieved for Aboriginal people.

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