Indigenous Australians exercising self-determination for the first time: Calma

By Angela Dorizas

Australia’s new representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be a private company funded by the Federal Government, said Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma.

An independent Indigenous Steering Committee, convened by Commissioner Calma last year, said the proposed national representative body was a radical new approach to Indigenous affairs.

“Today is a day when, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, we begin a new journey and express our determination to put our future in our hands,” Calma said in his National Press Club address on Thursday.

“This model us about a way forward, that is focused on the future and flexible enough to adapt to new or emerging priorities.

“What we are proposing today will be radically different from anything we have ever seen in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. It will certainly not be ‘business as usual’.”

The new representative body would be a private company limited by guarantee, and funded by the Australian Government on a recurrent basis for an initial five-year period. Calma recommended that it should be granted Deductible Gilft Recipient (DGR) status to allow the body to raise corporate support.

Calma said the national representative body would be comprised of a national executive lead by full-time male and female co-chairs; a national congress that would be the primary accountability mechanism for setting national policies on an annual basis; an ethics council to shortlist candidates for election to the national executive and to maintain ethical standards within the organisation; and an administrative or executive support unit.

He said the initial development phase would extend to 2010 to allow the organisation to focus on building strong governance and an accountability framework.

Calma said Indigenous peoples were “truly exercising self-determination, for the first time”.

“We have been without a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at the national level for too long,” he said.

“We have suffered from the absence of a strong national representative organisation over the past five years.

“And governments have also suffered from the absence of a national body.” 

Federal Minister for Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, said the proposed model set a high benchmark for strong, responsible and strategic leadership, while upholding gender equality, youth leadership and ethical principles.

The final model for the national representative body was presented in the Our future in our hands report.

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