Reading 15: National Congress of Australia's First Peoples
In early 2010, the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples came into existence. The creation of the new body is the fourth attempt at a national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the past 30 years. The new congress carries expectations, and baggage, left by its predecessors - most recently the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC abolished in 2005. The creation of the National Congress was the culmination of a struggle by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the years following ATSIC's abolition to ensure their participation in policy-making processes at the national level by freely chosen representatives. In many ways, the new organisation represents a break from the past. Certainly it is unlike any national representative organisation that has existed in Australia before.
The National Congress seeks to address the governance concerns that plagued the final years of ATSIC, attempting to build a new type of national representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that builds on the enormous, but underutilised, strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, peak bodies and service delivery agencies. It also seeks to engage the very best minds across Indigenous Australia. The congress model aims for a form of representation that advances the national interest in the name of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples rather than on the basis of sectoral, family or other discrete interests. Also, in a national first for any organisation, gender equality is built into all aspects of the organisation's structure and there is a strong focus on ethical governance practices.
The model itself is intended to be self-sustaining over time, with true independence from government the medium-term objective. For this reason, the congress does not aspire to be a service delivery arm of government. It has been established as an independent, non-government entity rather than the more familiar statutory body of recent years. There is a clear demarcation between the advocacy and representational role of the congress and the service delivery responsibilities of governments to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Each of these features moves the National Congress into new modes of thinking about governance. It will challenge governments in its independent stance and, equally, it will challenge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to build a new form of national engagement.
This chapter provides an overview of the National Congress model and some of the factors that underpinned its development. The chapter discusses the key matters raised during the 2008 and 2009 national consultation process on the creation of a new national representative body, and how these informed the design of the National Congress. It will consider what should be expected of the congress by both government and Indigenous peoples, and what it is not designed - and should not be expected - to do.'
Unsettling the Settler State
Creativity and Resistance in Indigenous Settler-State Governance
Editors Sarah Maddison and Morgan Brigg
The Federation Press 2011
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (National Congress) was established in May 2010. The National Congress has an Executive Board of eight directors, led by male and female co-chairs.
In April 2011, Jody Broun and Les Malezer became the first elected co-chairs of the Congress. The Board is supported by an Ethics Council, which provides independent expert advice.
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (Congress) is a unifying voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia. We are an independent and representative body - a national voice, a leader, an advocate and a source of advice and expertise for all Australians. Our members are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and organisations. Through their participation and decision-making, we will defend our rights and protect our unique heritage as the First Peoples of Australia. Congress strives for equality, freedom and opportunity. We are focused on our Peoples’ ability to make decisions and to control our lives and communities.
Congress is a member-led organisation. In just a short time we have grown to have thousands of members from every State and Territory. We also have the support and participation of hundreds of member organisations.