Ben Wyatt: WA government is resetting the relationship with First Peoples

In February this year, the McGowan government committed to improving the lives of all Western Australians and the natural environment we share and love.

As part of this challenge the government committed to reducing the appalling rates of imprisonment of Aboriginal people by 23 per cent within a decade as the headline indicator to measure the wellbeing of First Nation peoples in Western Australia.

That WA has the highest rates of Aboriginal people in prison nationally of all Australian states is a shocking indictment. Yet to dramatically reduce Aboriginal incarceration does not mean changing out tough stance on crime. In fact, the government will become more vigilant because another of our commitments is to make our society safer.

Why a commitment to reducing Aboriginal imprisonment is such an effective measure of Aboriginal wellbeing is because it targets the underlying causes. Impoverishment and marginalisation promotes anti-social behaviour and alcohol and drug abuse.

High incarceration rates is one obvious manifestation of an entrenched historical relationship where many Aboriginal people feel not respected by the dominant society. And that creates a pattern where children don't go to school and people's potential to live good lives as fully participating members of the community are not realised.

The McGowan government is committed to resetting the relationship with the First Peoples of this state. We are committed to respecting Aboriginal people's connection to their traditional country by honouring native title rights.

We don't see native title as something begrudgingly recognised in the face of legal reality. We treat it as a platform for a just relationship to promote economic and social advancement. As part of resetting this relationship the government is developing a totally new Aboriginal heritage protection regime that places Aboriginal heritage as fundamental to Western Australia's sense of prosperity and identity.

We are committed to building a four-way partnership of the state and commonwealth government working in tandem with Aboriginal communities and industry to achieve the economic and social objectives we all want. If we get this right in 10 years, the commitment to reduce Aboriginal imprisonment by 23 per cent may well be seen as conservative.