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Ken Wyatt (Lib-Hasluck) – Maiden Speech

This is Ken Wyatt’s maiden speech to the House of Representatives.

The Western Australian electorate of Hasluck was created in 2001. Its first member was the ALP’s Sharryn Jackson. In 2004, she was defeated by the Liberal Party’s Stuart Henry but regained the seat again in 2007. Wyatt defeated her in 2010, securing 50.57% of the two-party vote and a swing of 1.42%.

Wyatt is the Liberal Party’s first indigenous member elected to the House of Representatives.

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Hansard transcript of maiden speech to the House of Representatives by Ken Wyatt, Liberal member for Hasluck.

Mr WYATT (4:55 PM) —I acknowledge the traditional owners, the Ngambri people, on whose land this great house stands and I equally acknowledge their elders past and present. I want to personally thank Matilda House for the Welcome to Country. I also acknowledge the Nyungar people of Western Australia and my elders past and present. Their wisdom and guidance ensured that our culture, language and history has endured for 40,000 years and remains vibrant and alive today.

The decisions we make determine our destiny and the choices we make shape our personal future. It is an enormous honour that the electors of Hasluck have bestowed upon me by electing me as their representative for this term of parliament. Only 1,093 people have been privileged to be a member of the House of Representatives. It is with deep and mixed emotion that I, as an Aboriginal man with Noongar, Yamitji and Wongi heritage, stand before you and the members of the House of Representatives as an equal. I want to reflect these feelings and sentiments so eloquently put by the two previous Aboriginal senators, Neville Bonner and Aden Ridgeway, in their maiden speeches.

In Senator Neville Bonner’s powerful first speech on 8 September 1971, he encapsulated the feelings that I am experiencing today. Equally, Senator Aden Ridgeway, in his speech 28 years after Senator Neville Bonner’s speech, also outlined the enormity of the task that I assume as a mantle of responsibility to represent the people of Hasluck and advocate for Indigenous Australians. Regretfully, 39 years later, I stand here and the same principles and ideals still apply. Not a great deal has changed significantly.

Hasluck covers an area of approximately 227 square kilometres, is the home to over 93,000 residents and includes the City of Gosnells, the western portion of the Shire of Kalamunda and parts of the Shire of Mundaring and the City of Swan. It is geographically and economically diverse and includes a range of industries, including retail, transport and service industries; some light industry such as the Cole Group and Barminco; and market gardens and vineyards such as the Sandalford Winery. Rotary has an expression of ‘Service above self’ and it is my intention to serve the constituents of Hasluck by fighting for better outcomes that positively impact on their everyday life.

The decision of the Hasluck electors has immortalised them for creating a historic moment in Australia’s history by electing the first Aboriginal member of the House of Representatives. Researchers in the future will analyse the decision made by the people of Hasluck on 21 August 2010. What they are likely to find is that the personal and professional qualities of the candidate were the reasons for their decision.

I am fortunate that I have been elected as the member for Hasluck in Western Australia for a range of reasons, but more importantly because the seat is named after a man who devoted his life to public office and the matters that he sought to right. Sir Paul Hasluck entered federal politics in 1949 and remained as the Liberal member for Curtin until 1969. He served as Minister for Territories, Minister for Defence and Minister for External Affairs. He served as a diplomat and cabinet minister, and was the first Western Australian-born Governor-General of Australia. In reading an extract of his from the House of Representatives parliamentary debates, I was struck by a couple of salient points that remain equally important today. Sir Paul Hasluck stated that the ‘foundations of our policy are two principles’, being equality of opportunity and that ‘there should be no division into classes but that men should stand on their own worth’.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to deal with any social issue. Rather, we should look at the individual needs of the person, the family and the community. For example, the needs of Gosnells residents differ from the needs of Kalamunda residents in my electorate. I want no less for the electors of Hasluck, the people of Western Australia and Australian society as we become immersed within a global economy. I want to achieve changes and outcomes, as I am sure that you all equally desire, that are inclusive because if we do not achieve those changes then we have failed those who have elected us.

I am the oldest child of Don and Mona Wyatt, who raised 10 children. My father served in the RAAF towards the end of World War II as a driver and left to work for the Western Australian Government Railways where he worked and ended his career as a railway ganger. In 1972, when I graduated from teachers college my first pay was more than what my father was earning towards the end of his career. My mother was one of the stolen generation and spent her childhood years in Roelands Mission near Bunbury in Western Australia.

As a child, I used to listen to the stories shared between my mother and her brothers and sisters about growing up in the respective missions they were sent to. They reminisced about the people they grew up with outside of their own families and the family connections they re-established after leaving the mission. I often wondered about the experiences that remained locked away in their memories and not talked about. What I found even more fascinating was the blurring of the lines between real family and the many others who were accepted as family because they had shared a significant part of their childhood together in the mission.

We all have vivid recollections of the way things were, but as children we did not comprehend the significance of many actions until much later, when we were more capable of understanding the reality of life my mother experienced while she was in Roelands Mission and later as a domestic worker. My parents substantiated this when I was much older and the missing pieces were gained through reading the numerous entries, correspondence and field officer’s reports in my mother’s native welfare department file. It gave us an inkling of the challenges that she faced as a child and later as an adolescent woman when she was sent out to work. The letters from her parents or the entries made about parental contact over a period of time clearly established the fact that her parents had not relinquished their parental rights.

The apology to the stolen generation has been a powerful instrument in the healing of both our people and our nation. The apology was acknowledged and received in the spirit for which it was offered. When the former Prime Minister delivered the apology on 13 February 2008 in this chamber I shed tears for my mother and her siblings. 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. I felt a sense of relief that the pain of the past had been acknowledged and that the healing could begin. At that point, the standing orders prevented an Indigenous response. On behalf of my mother, her siblings and all Indigenous Australians, I, as an Aboriginal voice in this chamber, say thank you for the apology delivered in the federal parliament and I thank the Hon. Kevin Rudd for honouring his commitment to the stolen generation.

I hope that all governments continue to embrace new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed, where enduring approaches need to change and where the future we all influence is based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the agencies of government need to jettison the old mindsets that embody Indigenous Australians as passive recipients of government programs and services, and to instead truly regard people as equals and allow them to be equal partners in developing their solutions. Governments must allow information to be shared so that an informed consent decision-making process is enabled. If change is to occur and become embedded and sustained then all must be equal and active partners in all facets of planning, implementation and accountability, and I would equally apply this to all Australians that we represent.

My parents instilled in us the values of having respect for others, having integrity, trusting others and accepting responsibility for our actions and decisions. We were taught that our word was to be our bond, and that prevails. However, life experiences teach you to be much more astute to those who have ulterior motives based on personal gain.

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. I used education as the way to change my life to get to where I am now and I believe that a quality education is the key to success for any young Australian. I have always been inspired by Nelson Mandela, who reinforced the importance of education with these words:

Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of a farm worker can become the president of a great nation.

As the son of a railway ganger and a domestic worker who was a part of the stolen generation, I am here before you today in this chamber because of the influence of education and my year 1 teacher, Miss Abernethy. Her unfailing faith in my ability to succeed and serve Australian society resonated on the day of the election when she turned up to hand out how-to-vote cards for me in Maddington. This ongoing support 50 years after I was in her class has been particularly humbling.

This is why I have always believed and promoted the fact that education and access to the knowledge society involves lifelong learning. An education in Corrigin, a rural town in Western Australia, has not been a barrier to my achievements. The local Rotary Club, the Country Women’s Association and a local businessman, Dean Rundle, combined their efforts to ensure I completed my secondary schooling. They met all of the costs associated with my schooling and travel and provided pocket money. They indicated to my parents that they had great faith in the pathway and journey and that I had the opportunity to travel if I was given the right support. I attended Swanleigh Residential College in Swan View to complete my leaving certificate and I graduated as a primary school teacher from Mount Lawley Teachers College.

My career led me to leadership roles in education and health both in Western Australia and in New South Wales. Co-chairing the COAG Indigenous health working group, I achieved a $1.6 billion commitment from all jurisdictions to improve Indigenous health outcomes. For me, that is the jewel in the crown of my work achievements. I was able to contribute effectively in these positions due to my life experiences.

As a teenager I would trap rabbits to put food on the table, sell the excess to the local butcher and tan the skins to provide money for our family of 10. I would get up at 4.30 am, light the fire and ride my bike to check my traps before going to school, and then after school I would chop firewood for others to earn money. On weekends and during school holidays, I worked in a variety of labouring roles, which included being a labourer for brickies, carpenters, plumbers and a roof tiling team. The work was hard but I pulled my weight to earn what I was paid. I was a rouseabout on shearing teams and learnt wool-classing. Experiences such as a farm labourer, a general hand in a local garage washing car parts in petrol on cold mornings, an undertaker’s live-in caretaker, a fettler on the railway line and a grape-picker in the Swan Valley and Caversham are not dissimilar to the experiences of residents in the seat of Hasluck.

Whilst I was campaigning and meeting people at their front doors, I was affected by the number of ordinary Australians who struggle from day to day and in particular the number of seniors, retirees and veterans struggling to make ends meet. I find this an anomaly because the wealth, prosperity and facilities that we take for granted were established and provided through the hard work and sacrifices of our elderly. Additionally, our freedom, the liberties we enjoy and the democratic processes we have today are because of our veterans and the sacrifices that they made for us. I do not want to celebrate a day or week dedicated to seniors and veterans, but instead want to work with members of this House to find real solutions that will enable them to enjoy a comfortable retirement and be financially secure. Elders within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies are revered and respected, and hold a special place—they do not go away but remain as wisdom-givers and guides in our future. The same concept has to be applied to all seniors and retirees, and the support they require should be accorded to them.

As leaders—and I see all of us in this House as leaders—we need to be pathfinders so that we can accelerate the change needed to improve outcomes for our future generations. To me, pathfinders are leaders who shape the future, which is fast, fragile, fashionable and ever-changing. As pathfinders, we forge the way forward and we draw the maps and pathways for the future generations of Australians. As pathfinders, we have to commit to and fight for change. We have to plan for a society that should exist for all Australians in 2030 and 2050.

From my professional experience, health and medical treatment is an example that gives a clear understanding of the rapid impact of change. Today, modern medicine includes substantial work surrounding stem cell research and its application to repairing vital organs and body tissue, DNA profiling and health enhancement to address predisposition to disease. This will ultimately impact on an individual’s wellbeing and prolong the quality of life. Consider the following: in the near future we will be able to have a 360-degree body scan that will identify every organ, blood vessel and nerve which in turn will be stored on a computer and uploaded, and our surgery will be programmed and robotically followed through. The complex incision, treatment of body tissue and sealing of a wound will all be supervised by a surgeon from a central control point. It sounds impossible, but imagine Henry Ford today looking at the assembly line he established. It is now that automated that he would not recognise the original process upon which it was based.

As pathfinders, we need to design education and training systems that are a means through which Australian societies better prepare future generations to invent a better tomorrow for themselves and their children. The opportunity to address this issue has been lost over recent times and we need to redress the current situation so that we develop Australia’s workforce with the skills required for the future. As leaders, we need to be the pathfinders and use our influence at the right times, for the right reasons and for the good of all not the few. We need to continue to search for the best answers and not the familiar ones because they offer the path of least resistance. We need to achieve a legacy of better outcomes for the children of the future and work for the benefit of others and not for personal gain. For all of us as pathfinders, we need to take our ideas and aspirations, act on them, see them through to success and not give up when the quest gets challenging, and remember at all times that we are all our children’s future.

I am passionate about and strongly committed to working towards achieving better outcomes and opportunities for the residents of Hasluck, Indigenous Australians and Australian society marked by justice, legitimacy, integrity and a commitment to supporting these essential virtues. Equally, I strongly believe that we need to provide a lifelong educational pathway that positions our young people to succeed in an ever-changing world where the quick pace of the global and technological society will be ever-present in their lives; provide for our seniors, veterans and those living in poverty, who require practical solutions to their specific needs; and provide strong and visionary leadership that forges our place in the global community as a nation of people led by many, not the few.

I believe that ministers as pathfinders have the capacity to make a difference in shaping Australia’s future. The greatest strength of Australian democracy is that ministers of any party take responsibility for the provision of services, programs and funding for all Australians based on need and not on political expediency. Their thinking should extend beyond the term of a government, even though we give commitments within our election priorities. I expect that the residents of Hasluck will share equally in the evolving commitments and priorities established by ministers and I will ensure that they will not be overlooked. My commitment is to them.

Throughout the campaign and election I was strongly supported by the Hasluck division of the WA Liberal Party and the team of volunteers who provided endless hours of support and encouragement. In the 44th Parliament I hope to see Aboriginal members from all parties in their place in the House of Representatives. I have appreciated the personal support given to me since the campaign by the Hon. Tony Abbott and the Hon. Julie Bishop. My patron senator, who has walked very closely with me, Senator Judith Adams, was the mainstay of support that resulted in me standing here as the member for Hasluck in the chamber today.

The things I have done and achieved in life are not for my own edification but to make a difference for others, that they may choose a destiny that meets their needs and the needs of the society in which they live. I have the experience, wisdom, fortitude and energy to take on this responsibility and to do what has to be done to make a difference for the people of Hasluck. As a pathfinder, I will focus on the present and learn from the past to shape the future for the generations to come.

I dedicate my maiden speech, because of the support that I have received, to my fiancee, Anna, and to my sons, Aaron and Brendyn, who continue to make me proud.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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