Ken Wyatt: Australia’s first indigenous cabinet minister

Ken Wyatt was chosen this week to be Australia’s minister for indigenous Australians, the first Aboriginal person ever to hold the role.

It’s a historic appointment which also makes him the first indigenous Australian to sit in cabinet.Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcements as part of his revamped ministry, following a surprise election victory on 18 May.

Many indigenous Australians are celebrating the elevation of Mr Wyatt, a 66-year-old conservative MP.

Australia has only ever had 10 indigenous lawmakers in federal parliament, with the majority joining only in the past decade.

Indigenous people make up about 3% of Australia’s population, but experts say their lack of parliamentary representation is not just because they’re a minority.

It’s rooted in Australia’s colonial history and the systemic disenfranchisement of generations of indigenous people through government policy, says Associate Prof Dominic O’Sullivan from Charles Sturt University.

“Indigenous people have been quite deliberately kept on the margins of politics for so long,” says Associate Prof O’Sullivan, an expert on indigenous representation across Commonwealth parliaments.

Mr Wyatt’s appointment to cabinet is historically significant and should be celebrated, he says.

“But it also shows the depth of indigenous exclusion that it’s taken this long since Federation [in 1901] and that we are celebrating this moment as something novel or unusual,” he says.

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