Remarks at the unveiling of Hon Ken Wyatt’ MP’s portrait

29 May 2017
Parliament House, Canberra
Prime Minister


Yanggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngunnawal dhawra. Wanggarralijinyin mariny bulan bugarabang.

We are on the lands of the Ngunnawal people and we acknowledge that and we acknowledge their elders past and present.

I want to thank Aunty Matilda for that characteristic Welcome to Country, and the presence of little Evie.

It says a lot you know – come here Ken, I’m going to give this old guy a hug and then we will be crying into our teacups - look, it says a lot about us Australians that we can celebrate such a wonderful, historic occasion as this. Celebrate this unveiling of this portrait and do so with good humour, with love, with affection, with no rancour. Aunty Matilda who, as she said, had an appointment she had to head off and with her red coat and her wit, she set us all on the right track.

So Ken, thank you so much for everything that you do. Mary, thank you for painting this portrait. Thank you for revealing what we all know, that Anna lights Ken up. You were there, you were there. Was he being a bit stiff and shy? Then Anna came closer and that spark, that got him going. Fantastic.

Ken, you have followed 39 years after Neville Bonner. I should say that Neville Bonner’s great-niece Jo Lindgren sends her love to you and to Anna and to everyone here today; another Aboriginal Australian who was a member of the Senate until recently.

But Ken was the first Aboriginal man to be elected to the House of Representatives and as Bill said, over 1000 Australians have been elected before him. Too many. But now he’s joined by Linda Burney, the first woman and, of course, following in Neville’s footsteps in the Senate we’ve had many others; Aden Ridgeway you mentioned, Nova Peris  - who of course is here and I will have more to say about her in a moment -  Jo Lindgren and of course now Malarndirri McCarthy, Pat Dodson and Jacqui Lambie.

But Ken, you are also the first Aboriginal Australian to be a member of an Australian government. Again, that is long overdue. But it is one of the steps that our Government has taken, my Government has taken, to advance the voice of Aboriginal Australians, First Australians, in our Parliament, in our nation's affairs.

You bring with it an extraordinary personal quality. Ken has, the New Zealanders would call - it’s a Maori word, it’s almost untranslatable - they would call it ‘mana’. Ken has a presence, a life-force, a calm, an aura. I’m not getting new-age here Ken don’t worry. But you have got a presence and a calm and a wisdom that all of us are inspired by. Even our political opponents, as you can see.

So it is wonderful to be here with you; I want to thank you very much for your service. You have advanced that cause of reconciliation so much, simply by your advocacy, your presence, the love that you show. The way that you represent the people of Hasluck, the people of Australia that you represent too. You embody here, Buka and all, the oldest continuous human culture on our planet.

So I want, before we go to announce, to unveil the portrait, I want to make another announcement. That is, that we are commissioning two additional portraits. Firstly, one of former Senator Nova Peris, who was the first Indigenous woman to serve in the Senate. Also the Honourable Linda Burney, the first Indigenous woman to serve in the House of Representatives.  Ladies and gentlemen, they will join Ken and Neville Bonner. That demonstrates the continuity of that historical collection that the Presiding Officer spoke of.

So congratulations, Mary, on your painting. It’s a hard task portrait painting, capturing that mana. But you have done that and so Ken, I think it is up to us now to unveil you, if not to hang you.

That will be done by the Parliamentary staff of whom you have spoken so warmly, but I’ll hang you with affection.