NEW CONGRESS TO REPRESENT
ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDERS

Embargo Sunday May 2nd 10.30 am

After many years of discussion and consultation, a new organisation was unveiled today to create a national voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples is the culmination of years of hard work to re-create a national Indigenous representative body.

The announcement was made in Sydney at Australian Hall, the site of the historic rights campaign meeting - the 1938 Aborigines Conference.

Today’s announcement confirms the Congress has been officially incorporated and work has begun to establish the operations of the company by eight founding directors who form a National Executive.

The National Executive are charged with overseeing the set up phase and along with a secretariat is tasked to convene the first meeting of the Congress and its 120 delegates.

Dr Kerry Arabena and Mr Sam Jeffries are the inaugural fulltime Co-Chairs and are joined by fellow directors: Ms Josephine Bourne, Professor Peter Buckskin, Mr Ned David, Professor Colleen Hayward, Mr Klynton Wanganeen and Ms Daphne Yarram.

The Co-Chairs said that the first directors were humbled by the opportunity to be part of such an historic movement.

“Today is an important step in creating once again, a national platform and voice to advance issues important to our peoples,” said Co-Chair Mr Sam Jeffries.

“The formation of the Congress as a company and appointing the first executive is the result of many years of discussions amongst our leaders, communities and organisations.

“I am confident we have brought together some of the most capable, experienced and energised people to achieve the first national gathering of the Congress,” Mr Jeffries said.

Dr Arabena said there was a great deal of expectation and pointed to the detailed work ahead of them.

“There will be many challenges and an enormous workload ahead of us but on the ground there is a great deal of anticipation and goodwill,” Dr Arabena said.

“We will be forming partnerships with Governments, the community and the private sector to help nurture and sustain the National Congress.

“However we are absolutely focused on encouraging participation by our own peoples to help establish and shape the organisation for the long term,” said Dr Arabena.

Immediate priorities for the Congress include appointing a Chief Executive Officer, finalising policies and procedures including the operation of the national meeting, driving membership and rules for the first election of office holders.

As the final model for the Congress, it was developed through consultation and submissions to a Steering Committee that was auspiced by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

National consultations reinforced principles that were expected of a new body and as a result the Congress will be guided by values including sustainability, integrity, merit-based selection, independence from government, accountability, openness and transparency.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have set the highest standards for the Congress including a guaranteed gender balance for office holders and delegates to the Congress.

A special body of expert peers has also been established as an Ethics Council and will provide independent advice on standards and guidelines for the Congress.

As an oversight and advice body the Council will assist with legal and reporting requirements but also as an external body that can investigate breaches or complaints.

Members of the Council are: Mr Tom Calma, Ms Megan Davis (Co-Chair), Mr Wesley Enoch, Ms Mary Graham, Ms Nalwarri Ngurruwutthun and Professor
Lester-Irabinna Rigney (Co-Chair).

Biographies for the National Executive and Ethics Council are available on request.

The Steering Committee’s final report can be viewed at
http://humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/repbody/report2009/index.html

Media Contact: Aaron Ross media@nationalcongress.com.au