West Australian Aboriginal MP Ken Wyatt will become the first Indigenous person to be promoted to the ministry, as part of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s frontbench reshuffle.
Mr Wyatt — who was the first Indigenous Australian elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 — will serve as Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health.
The Prime Minister said the Member for Hasluck was an ideal choice for the two portfolios given his experience in the public service.
“Just as Ken was the first Indigenous person to be elected to the House of Representatives and the first to be appointed to the executive of the Commonwealth Government, he is now the first Indigenous person appointed to the Commonwealth ministry,” Mr Turnbull said.
— abc730 (@abc730) January 18, 2017
“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 Wyatt told the ABC he did not expect to be promoted to the ministry at such an early stage in his political career.
He said he did not believe Indigenous health challenges were intractable and called for a wider approach to health care services.
“I think we’ve got to look at how the whole of the health sector throws its weight behind the health of Aboriginal people,” he said.
On social media, Mr Wyatt said he was “deeply honoured” to have been promoted to the ministry.
Deeply honoured to be appointed Minister for Aged Care, and Minister for Indig Health. Thank you all for the kind words of support!
— Ken Wyatt MP (@KenWyattMP) January 18, 2017
Before entering politics Mr Wyatt was the director of Aboriginal health within both the NSW and West Australian health departments.
He supported Mr Turnbull to take over as Prime Minister but said he wanted to acknowledge former leader Tony Abbott’s heart and drive for Indigenous affairs.
Mr Wyatt is one of five Indigenous federal politicians and said the increased representation was one of his highlights for 2016.
“It shows that we can do anything,” he told the ABC.
It doesn’t matter where we are — we can aspire to the higher levels of the Australian Parliament.
Mr Wyatt has also criticised calls from within the Liberal Party to amend 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
At a West Australian Liberal Party conference in February last year, he said it was not only the Indigenous population that would suffer if 18c was repealed altogether.
“I would ask that we give serious consideration to this because the ramifications are not confined to the Indigenous community,” Mr Wyatt said.
“It is much broader in the groups that will react to us.”
Greg Hunt, who was shifted from the industry to health portfolio on Wednesday, said Mr Wyatt’s appointment was an important moment for all Australians.
“We have outstanding people but the point about diversity today is that Ken Wyatt has just been appointed as our first ever Indigenous minister and that is a signature moment for Australia,” he said.
“Long overdue. But finally realised. He will be outstanding.”
I wish Ken Wyatt well in his important portfolio. Greg Hunt set real action on climate change back 10 years, & did nothing to stop whaling.
— Peter Garrett (@pgarrett) January 18, 2017
Mr Hunt took over the industry, innovation and science portfolios from Christopher Pyne in July, bringing to an end almost a decade working in the environment portfolio.
He said Mr Wyatt’s promotion was “a grand and important moment for all Australians and something to celebrate and of which we should all be proud”.
The new ministers will be sworn in on Tuesday at Government House in Canberra.