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Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Meeting Communiqué Indigenous Advisory Council: 3-4 October 2018

Meeting Communiqué Indigenous Advisory Council: 3-4 October 2018

Indigenous Affairs Indigenous Advisory Council
Wednesday, 21 November 2018

National Indigenous Australians Agency

The members of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council met in Sydney on 3‑4 October 2018 and welcomed the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s incoming Associate Secretary, Mr Ray Griggs.

Council expressed their continuing commitment to influence Government to ensure co-design with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is central to the development of policy and programs. 

The Prime Minister and former Minister Scullion both acknowledged the importance of advice Government receives from Council to enhance the design and delivery of programs and services to better meet the needs of Indigenous Australians on the ground.

Council highlighted the four foundations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture: law (public lore), country, language, and family, and how these form the basis of the governance operating rhythm of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and nations.

Council discussed that activation of these foundations through recognition of Indigenous voices, and working in a real partnership for change, would ensure that future generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will flourish and be enabled to walk in two worlds.

The Prime Minister, Minister Scullion and the Council agreed that honouring culture and the concept of the Indigenous Governance Operating Rhythm provides an opportunity for a way forward for government working with Indigenous Australians. The Western Sydney Indigenous Business Hub is an example of how this can work.

Council discussed the need to consider the way Australia celebrates its history and acknowledged the conversation the Prime Minister has initiated. The Council agreed that the story of Australia has three chapters: the story of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and whose stories continue to be told, the story that tells the arrival of the British and their settlement and the story of immigration and together these chapters make up our modern Australian story.

The Council referenced the Prime Minister’s personal framework of keeping Australians together and that a national institution, such as a national resting place for Indigenous people, could offer Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians an opportunity to pause for thought and to share reflections on our past, present and future.

The Prime Minister provided Council with further detail on the role of the Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Tony Abbott MP. The Prime Minister advised that the Special Envoy has been asked to bring forward measures to improve school attendance and performance of children in remote communities. The Special Envoy will consult broadly and work closely with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and the Minister for Education. The Prime Minister has also asked the Special Envoy to consult with Council on recommendations and proposals.

Priority matters discussed included the Closing the Gap Refresh; the recommendations in the Healing Foundation’s report, Bringing them Home 20 years on: and Action Plan for Healing (Healing Foundation Report); reforms to the Remote School Attendance Strategy; Cashless Debit Card; evaluation of the Indigenous Procurement Policy; reforms to employment services; role of the Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs; Ms June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Social Justice Commissioner’s Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) project; and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Indigenous Research Exchange.

These priorities were explored within the framework that the Council has established to guide policy advice, including: strengths based approaches; strengthening relationships; enabling local leadership and decision making; and accountability.

Further details of issues discussed follows.

The Council discussed progress on the Closing the Gap Refresh. Council noted that significant progress has been made in COAG negotiations and that the process was still ongoing. Council agreed the importance of action plans that recognise the diverse strengths and needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Council agreed that to Close the Gap, COAG needs to involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the decision making process and the co-design of policy and programs as well as implementation. This is critical to success at the local and regional level.

The Council considered the recommendations in the Healing Foundation Report. The Council noted the contemporary needs of Stolen Generations and their descendants, and various redress schemes across the jurisdictions. The Council agreed a more consistent approach to redress across the States and Territories is required.

The Council discussed reforms to the Remote School Attendance Strategy. The Council agreed the importance of placing parents at the centre to engage families in children’s school attendance and ensuring that reporting considers and communicates the impact of the Strategy, demonstrating the cumulative effect, rather than just the delivery of the service. Council agreed the importance of moving to a development framework as opposed to the current service framework in reporting impact and success, to ensure families, children and schools can see clearly how their combined their collective agency is improving educational outcomes in their local community. Council emphasised the importance of adopting a strengths based approach, such as measuring impact, and demonstrating that there is a return on investment through the Remote School Attendance Strategy.

The Council received an update on the Government’s two welfare quarantining programs - Cashless Debit Card (CDC) and Income Management (IM). Council recognised that there are positive and negative outcomes from the programs and expressed concern about the human and social impact of the programs. The Council asked for better data on outcomes and impacts and recommended that Government improves the way it communicates about the program to welfare recipients.

The Council discussed the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Western Australian Indigenous procurement policies. The Council identified the need for a greater focus on Indigenous ownership of businesses that benefited from the Commonwealth’s Indigenous Procurement Policy and the need for governments in all States and Territories to establish similar policies. There is also a need to improve our understanding of the outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, such as the actual jobs that local Indigenous Australians fill and the types and locations of businesses that benefit.

Council met with the Chair of the Employment Services Expert Advisory Panel to discuss the Future of Employment Services project, in particular, the impact of the future model on Indigenous job seekers. The Council’s emphasised the importance of ensuring that employment services are:

  • delivered in a culturally sensitive manner;
  • tailored to the individual accounting for different cultural backgrounds and the unique challenges Indigenous job seekers face;
  • tailored to the local community including local Indigenous communities, and
  • implemented so that they put job seekers and their communities at the centre of how services are designed.

In addition Council discussed the importance of considering and addressing barriers to accessing digital or online services, such as living in remote locations; as well as ensuring that appropriate post placement support is provided, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander job seekers and their communities are empowered through the job placement process.  Council emphasised that the process must have a stronger focus on benefiting people over time rather than reducing the costs to government.

Ms June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission, provided an update on the Australian Human Rights Commission’s consultation on the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) project. Ms Oscar stated that it was a basic human right to communicate in the language of your choice and that this should be supported by governments through the provision of interpreters. The Wiyi Yani U Thangani project is about giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls a voice in Australia on issues that matter to them.

Ms Oscar acknowledged that this project was made possible due to the support of Minister Scullion. This support has enabled Ms Oscar to engage with 29 communities since February 2018 and to have met with over 1,500 women and girls. While Ms Oscar and the project team will not get to every community, it is anticipated that a further 15 communities will be visited by December 2018. The team is hopeful that they will have contacted over 2,500 women and girls by then.

A key message is that women want to continue to support each other to collectively respond to issues. They want to feel their voices aren’t being drowned out. There are many women in leadership roles in communities and they are sharing their strengths through language and culture. This is very important as it leads to a stronger Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity and the ability to walk in two worlds. Women have also identified racism, housing, health, safety and a right to live in a safe space as important issues.

The outcome of this project will be a report and we recommend that Government embeds the outcomes and recommendations in policy and programs. The Council agreed that this is an important step in improving policy and programs. There was also agreement that a similar process needs to be undertaken for men and boys.

AIATSIS presented information on the research priorities for the Indigenous Research Exchange (the Exchange). One of the key objectives of the Exchange is to commission Indigenous-led research on issues that can inform future policy and/or legislative decision making. Accordingly, the Exchange is developing a forward research program in consultation with Indigenous Australians. The Council is very supportive of the initiative.

Council also took the opportunity to discuss with AIATSIS the establishment of a national institution, such as a national resting place for Indigenous people. There was a strong focus on ensuring the remains of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people stolen from sacred sites by colonists and their representatives be returned to Australia.  A place of cultural celebration and remembrance would be an appropriate resting place for remains that cannot be returned to country. This could form part of the national institution discussed with the Prime Minister.