Thursday, 27 August 2009

Radical new approach announced for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs

A new representative body independent from government, with an equal number of men and women in leadership roles and reliance on strict ethical standards are among the key elements of a ground-breaking new approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs proposed today by a Steering Committee led by Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma.

Announcing the proposed model for a new national representative body during an address at the National Press Club today, Commissioner Calma said Australians could be on the cusp of great change.

“Today is a day when, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, we begin a new journey and express our determination to put our future in our hands,” Commissioner Calma said.

“This model is about a way forward, that is focused on the future and flexible enough to adapt to new or emerging priorities.

“What we are proposing today will be radically different from anything we have ever seen in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. It will certainly not be ‘business as usual’."

Commissioner Calma was asked by federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin in December 2008 to convene an independent Indigenous Steering Committee to undertake phase two of consultations and develop a model for a new national Indigenous representative body.

He said the new representative body should be a private company limited by guarantee and should be funded by the Australian Government on a recurrent basis for an initial five-year period, subject to negotiation thereafter. He said it should also be granted Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status as a matter of urgency to enable the body to raise corporate support and donations.

The proposed body would have four main components including: including: a National Executive lead by full-time male and female co-chairs; a National Congress that would be the primary accountability mechanism for the National Representative Body to set national policies and priorities through an annual congress; an Ethics Council that would apply a merit-based process to shortlist candidates for election as members of the National Executive and to develop and maintain the ethical standards of the organisation; and an administrative or Executive Support Unit.

There would be an initial development phase up until the end of 2010 that would be focused on building a strong governance and accountability framework, and importantly, on building buy in and acceptance of the model by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Commissioner Calma said.

The model proposes that there be a selection process for delegate positions on the three-chambered National Congress and a second selection process to become a National Executive member.

Commissioner Calma said the chamber model provided multiple ways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be involved in the representative body – through existing representative peak bodies, sectoral expert bodies, community organisations, as well as in an individual capacity.

“This model we are proposing today is a rare opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to work together with governments, industry and the Australian community to secure the economic and cultural independence of our peoples, and to enable us to truly experience self-determination, for the first time in this country,” he said.

“We have proposed a body that will exhibit the highest standards of ethical conduct and will set a new benchmark for gender equality in national organisations – which all Australians can learn from.”

The final model is contained in the report, “Our future in our hands” – Creating a sustainable National Representative Body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, released today, available at http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/repbody/

Media contact: Louise McDermott 0419 258 597

National Representative Body Steering Committee members are:

Tom Calma
Dr Mark Bin Bakar
Tanya Hosch
Geoff Scott
Dr Jackie Huggins AM
Tim Goodwin
Yananymul Mununggurr
Jason Glanville
John Toshi Kris