Workshop paints broad vision for planned national representative body

Australian Human Rights Commission – Friday, 17 April 2009

“A self-determining and independent body which does not deliver services and has equal representation of men and women are among the consensus points reached at a three-day workshop in Adelaide last month (11- 13 March) to lay the groundwork for a new national Indigenous representative body, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said today.

Commissioner Calma, who was asked by the federal government last year to convene the independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander steering committee which organised the workshop, said the 98 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from around Australia who participated had made major inroads into the planning of a sustainable new representative body.

“The workshop was hugely successful and saw a level of commitment from all participants that bodes well for the future,” Commissioner Calma said.

“There is strong support for the representative body to primarily be an advocacy body and to focus on holding government to account for its performance in programs, service delivery and policy development. There is also strong support for the national body to have a direct relationship at a regional level so that its advocacy work is fully informed.

“As well as reaching consensus on a number of areas, participants also mapped out a broad route for the first 20 years of a new representative body which would see it playing a leading role in working to achieve constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and helping to close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health status within a generation.

“There was consensus that the representative body should play a unifying role among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and contribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people controlling their own destiny and being economically independent,” he said.

“Workshop participants agreed that the new body should have mechanisms in place to ensure the participation of people who are generally marginalised in representative processes, such as young people, people with disability, members of the Stolen Generation and mainland Torres Strait Islanders.

“There was also strong support for a body that represented the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in terms of geographical locations, relationship to country and cultural diversity.”

Mr Calma said participants endorsed standards of behaviour for representative body members and employees (known as the Nolan principles), which included selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, leadership and honesty.

“The aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of what the representative body will do are quite clear. What remains to be determined is how the national body will operate,” Mr Calma said.

“A lot of work still needs to be done to clarify fundamental issues such as how membership of the national representative body will be decided, the body’s structure and how it would engage at the regional and state/territory levels.

“These issues will be explored further in a community guide that will be circulated to lead the next stage of the consultations which will be announced in the coming weeks.”

The summary report of the Adelaide workshop is available online at www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/repbody/index.html