MUNGO MACCALLUM. Government collective IQ shrinks further.

Jun 3, 2019

There was little to enthuse about Scott Morrison’s second ministry. 

The first one wasn’t too flash either, but with the exodus of Christopher Pyne,  Kelly O’Dwyer and Mitch Fifield,  the collective IQ has fallen still further. Bringing back Arthur Sinodinos would have helped, but he preferred a comfortable posting to the other side of the world.

Our miraculous leader is manfully focussing on what he perceives the plusses, mainly the number of women now warming his front bench. Their competence and ability may be in question, but they are undoubtedly female – no woman problems there.

However, given the lack of anything much else to write about, media attention has been concentrated on Ken Wyatt, promoted as Australia’s first indigenous cabinet minister and , what is perhaps more newsworthy, our first indigenous minister for Indigenous Australians.

Unlike his hapless Liberal predecessor, the late Senator Neville Bonner, who never wanted a job which he regarded as impossible to fulfill the expectations demanded of him, Wyatt actively lobbied for the portfolio, so good luck to him.

But it will not be easy, being a member of a ministry which has long resisted any change beyond the paternalistic assumption that what is called “practical” reconciliation – the nuts and bolt of improving the lamentable standards of health, housing, education, employment and law and order.

These are issues for all Australians, and worthy ones too – the basic tools of closing the gap. Bringing material standards up to at least the basic level enjoyed by most citizens is a long overdue priority.

But our first Australians know more is needed – there are deep wounds which must be healed to advance genuine understanding, and they have said so, politely but forcefully, in the Uluru  Statement from the Heart. The plea for Voice, Treaty and Truth was dismissed summarily by Malcolm Turnbull, and initially Morrison echoed the rejection.

Now he seems prepared to revisit the idea, but not with any urgency. More consultation, more enquiries, more procrastination. And unhappily, Wyatt is also ready to kick the can still further down the road.

The new minister says he will not hurry the process -– Bill Shorten’s plan for a referendum in the current term of parliament is no longer on the agenda. Wyatt is happy to wait for a second term, or perhaps longer.

He had actually proposed a mechanism to implement a voice, but immediately after his swearing in assured his colleagues that it was not government policy – meaning, presumably, that it won’t be. His problem, of course, is the resistance within the coalition in which he serves – a great many Liberals and Nationals are not merely uninterested, but actively hostile to the idea of Aboriginal recognition, let alone empowerment.

They regard it as divisive, providing benefits to one group of Australians denied to others. Ironically, some of these refuseniks are the most zealous in demanding that religious groups be exempt from laws which govern the rest of us. Illogical, even hypocritical – but the reality in the joint party room.

And Wyatt appears to have buckled in advance. Not a good start –- perhaps he should consult with his fellow  Western Australian Pat Dodson. Dodson will no longer grace Labor’s shadow ministry, but he remains its staunchest advocate for the cause – the father of reconciliation.

And since any real hope of progress must include bipartisanship, an informal alliance between the two would be a good start.

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