National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples (National Congress) was formally launched on 2 May 2010 following years of work to establish a new national Indigenous representative body.  Media release - National Congress website.

The National Congress will provide national leadership in advocating for the recognition of the status and rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as First Nations peoples. It will provide a voice for Indigenous Australians, and provide the opportunity to build new relationships with governments and industry to secure the economic, social, cultural and environmental futures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Australian Government has committed $29.2 million to the setting up and initial operation of the National Congress until December 2013.  Support for the National Congress underpins the Government's commitment to resetting and strengthening its relationship with Indigenous Australians.

Role of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples

The role of the National Congress is to:

  • formulate advice to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people contribute to and play a lead role in policy and program development on issues that affect them, and that an Indigenous perspective is provided on issues across government
  • advocate and lobby as a national conduit for communication between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the government, corporate and non-government sectors, and
  • ensure the presence of, and contribute to, mechanisms to monitor and evaluate government performance in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The National Congress will:

  • advocate for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' rights
  • work towards securing a positive economic, social, cultural and environmental future for Indigenous Australians
  • build new relationships with government, industry and other communities
  • have fair and diverse membership, and guarantee gender balance for delegates and office holders
  • ensure participation from youth, urban, regional and remote communities
  • encourage new leadership, and
  • grow and change based on decisions made by its members - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The National Congress will not:

  • provide service delivery or funding for public programs
  • have representatives or memberships who are picked by government, or
  • be dependent upon the goodwill of parliament or the government of the day.

[ top ]

Establishment of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples

On 22 November 2009, the Australian Government announced its support for the establishment of a national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to be known as the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples.

The next step towards the establishment of the National Congress took place in January 2010 with the appointment of the Ethics Council. Details of the operation and membership of the Ethics Council can be found on the Australian Government Indigenous website.

Following completion of its constitution, the National Congress was incorporated with ASIC as a company limited by guarantee on 19 April 2010. This structure was based on a model developed by an independent Steering Committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people after extensive community consultation.

The first National Executive of eight directors was selected by the independent Steering Committee and announced in May 2010, when it took over responsibility for setting up the National Congress from the Steering Committee. 

The founding directors are:

  • Mr Sam Jeffries (co-chair) - Murrawari nation from north-west NSW and southern QLD
  • Dr Kerry Arabena (co-chair) - descendant of the Meriam people of the Torres Strait
  • Ms Josephine Bourne - mainland Torres Strait Islander
  • Professor Peter Buckskin - Narungga man from the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia
  • Mr Ned David - Torres Strait Islander
  • Professor Colleen Hayward - Noongar woman from south-west Western Australia
  • Mr Klynton Wanganeen - descendant of Narungga and Ngarrindjeri nations, South Australia
  • Ms Daphne Yarram - Noongar woman born in south-west Western Australia.

In June 2010, Lindon Coombes was appointed as the first Chief Executive Officer of the National Congress.  Mr Coombes is a Eualeyai man from north-west NSW and has held a range of prominent positions in the public and community sectors.

The National Executive, supported by the secretariat, is responsible for developing the policies and procedures for the new body, establishing its membership base, and putting the necessary structures in place for elections of the new National Executive to take place at the first gathering of the delegates to the National Congress (expected to be held in November 2010).

Information on the appointment of the National Executive and biographical information on the founding directors is available on the National Congress website.

Podcasts from the National Congress directors can be heard on the Australian Government Indigenous website.

[ top ]

Engagement with Government

The National Congress will provide a central mechanism with which governments and the corporate and community sectors can engage and partner on reform initiatives. The National Congress will bring to the table an informed and strong national voice for the goals, aspirations, interests and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

FaHCSIA will continue to provide ongoing support to the National Congress during its establishment phase and initial years of operation. The department is also taking a lead role in working with other government agencies in the development of a framework to guide the Government's engagement with the National Congress.

What's happening at the National Congress?

To check on progress on establishment and operation of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples see the National Congress website.

Additional information about the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples can be found on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.



National Congress of Australia's First Peoples - Background

Government policy

In 2007 the Australian Government committed to establishing a national representative body to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a voice in national affairs.

The Government stated its intention to rebuild the relationship with Indigenous Australians and in doing so, to involve Indigenous communities in decisions which affect them, to enable a collaborative approach to improving outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

In making its commitment to an Indigenous representative body, the Government laid down some broad principles:

  • The Government would not create another ATSIC.
  • There would not necessarily be separate elections for the body.
  • The body would have urban, regional and remote representation.
  • The body would not have a service delivery role.

[ top ]


Policy research

The consultation process on a national Indigenous representative body was informed by an issues paper, Building a Sustainable National Indigenous Representative Body - Issues for Consideration, released on 12 July 2008 by the then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Dr Tom Calma.

The issues paper covered:

  • details on the history of Indigenous representative organisations in Australia, including some of the pros and cons of those models;
  • what's happening in other countries; and
  • possible key issues to be considered, including detailed questions that might help individuals and organisations in their discussions and deliberations.

The Minister for Indigenous Affairs welcomed the paper as a very helpful contribution to the consultation process for a new Indigenous representative body.
See The Hon Jenny Macklin MP Macklin media release.

The importance of a representative body was also discussed in speeches delivered by Dr Calma in early 2008:

[ top ]


First round of consultations - commenced July 2008

FaHCSIA conducted the initial public consultation process on the establishment of an Indigenous representative body from July to December 2008. This involved a total of 80 public meetings covering all the states and territories. The community consultation process included:

  • 17 regional consultations around Australia between 29 July and 1 September 2008.
  • A comprehensive mail out to Indigenous organisations informing them about the consultation process and inviting submissions.
  • A process for people to lodge written submissions by 19 September 2008, with more than 100 submissions lodged. Submissions can be accessed at the link First Round of consultation.
  • Community workshops/consultations facilitated by Indigenous Coordination Centres and FaHCSIA State Office staff.
  • Consultations with peak Indigenous organisations.
  • Consultations with State and Territory Governments.

The Summary Report on the first round of consultations provided an analysis of the key themes emerging from all of the consultation activities to date. Significantly there were requests during the initial consultations for more time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to consider the form an Indigenous representative body might take.

In response to the requests for an extended consultation period, Minister Macklin agreed to a second phase of consultations that would be led by an independent steering committee of Indigenous leaders, convened by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. This phase included a roundtable of Indigenous leaders and further consultation meetings, with the Steering Committee charged with the responsibility of presenting a preferred model to Government.
The Hon Jenny Macklin MP Macklin media release

[ top ]


Steering Committee

At the request of the Minister, Dr Calma invited a number of respected Indigenous people to participate on the independent Steering Committee. The Steering Committee membership reflected a diverse range of backgrounds with respect to geography, gender and age. The list of Steering Committee members and biographical information is provided by viewing: Biographies of members of the Steering Committee

[ top ]


Second round of consultations – commencing December 2008

The second round of consultation led by the Steering Committee built on the first round of consultations, which had demonstrated widespread support for a sustainable new body.

[ top ]


Consultation processes

As part of the second consultation process, a Community Guide and an Issues Paper were developed. These can be viewed at the links below.

A further public submission process was conducted as part of the second round of consultations. These submissions are available at the link Second Round of Submissions

[ top ]


Adelaide workshop

As part of the second stage of the consultation process, the Government asked Dr Calma to convene a workshop of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The workshop took place from 11-13 March 2009.

The Steering Committee selected approximately 100 leaders from across Australia to participate in the workshop. A list of participants is included in the full report of the workshop.

The purpose of the workshop was to:

  • review submissions and the outcomes of consultations conducted by the Government to date, on the establishment of a new representative body;
  • identify the key elements or features for a new National Indigenous Representative Body which can then be distilled down to a series of preferred models for a new representative body; and
  • identify a process for further consultation with Indigenous communities leading to the establishment of interim arrangements until the finalised body takes effect.

Information on the workshop and its outcomes is provided at the following links:

[ top ]


Representative body model

In August 2009, the report 'Our Future in Our Hands' was presented to Government by Dr Calma and the Indigenous Steering Committee for consideration. The report contained a recommended model for a new representative body based on the feedback from the twelve months of extensive consultations.

The proposed model was for a company limited by guarantee with the following components:

  • a National Executive;
  • a National Congress;
  • an Ethics Council; and
  • an Administrative Support Unit.

Details of the model are provided in the links at:

Government response to the Representative Body report

On 22 November 2009, following consideration of the report Our Future in Our Hands, the Australian Government announced its support for the establishment of a national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be known as the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples.

The Government announced funding of $29.2 million for the new representative body to provide appropriate support during its very important establishment phase and the early years of its operation. See press releases:

 

Content Updated: 20 May 2013