Case Study New approaches to engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians

Case Study 1

Real gains for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians can only be made in partnership with Indigenous communities. The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) believes that building better relationships with Indigenous Australians is a fundamental element in efforts to improve life outcomes for this priority group. The Department has increased its efforts to fulfil the Australian Government’s commitment to meaningful engagement with Indigenous Australians through a range of initiatives during 2010–11.

Stronger futures in the Northern Territory

The Government released the Stronger futures in the Northern Territory discussion paper in June 2011 as the starting point for consulting with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory to seek their views on future approaches to addressing Indigenous disadvantage.

The discussion paper set out what the Government sees as priority areas for action to build a stronger future for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. These include giving children the best start in life by making sure they attend school, getting more Aboriginal people into paid employment, and dealing with the devastating effects of alcohol abuse.

Consultations on the Stronger futures discussion paper were held across the Northern Territory from late June 2011 to mid August 2011. The consultation process was designed to enable the Government to hear what people had to say—about what works, what needs to be improved, and what more needs to be done—before it makes decisions about the future.

The consultation process was structured to include whole-of-community meetings as well as opportunities for less formal discussions with individuals and small groups in remote communities. Public meetings in urban and regional centres and discussions with key stakeholder groups were also planned. These were seen as building on the ongoing feedback that Aboriginal people have been providing to the Government over the past few years, either directly to ministers or through government business managers in communities, including through the extensive consultations undertaken in 2009 that helped inform the redesign of the Northern Territory Emergency Response.

Remote service delivery

Under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery, FaHCSIA is working to improve the delivery of services to Indigenous people in remote locations. Intensive work is currently proceeding in 29 priority locations across the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia.

Strong progress is being made in engagement at the community level. An expanded network of Indigenous engagement officers provides a critical coordination and communication role within Indigenous communities. They work closely with their local communities in remote service delivery locations to increase their community’s knowledge and understanding of government business.

Indigenous engagement officers have also played an important role, alongside government business managers, in helping communities develop local implementation plans which were finalised across each of the 29 remote service delivery locations during 2011.

Gathering to heal

The Government has provided $26.6 million over four years to establish the Healing Foundation to support community-based healing initiatives that address the traumatic legacy of colonisation, forced removals and other past government policies.

In 2011 the newly formed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation successfully completed its first annual funding round, providing funding to 21 Indigenous organisations across Australia to support community-based initiatives.

These initiatives are being developed and delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. The projects will promote connection to culture and are driven by local community need and locally developed solutions.

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

The board of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples held its first annual meeting with all 120 delegates in June 2011. The National Congress offers a forum where 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.

Constitutional recognition

Substantial progress has also been made in the area of constitutional reform since the Prime Minister announced the membership of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians in late 2010. Throughout 2011 the Expert Panel has led consultations across the whole Australian community aimed at building consensus on the recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution. The panel will advise the Government on how to improve the Constitution to reflect modern Australian values and for the first time formally recognise the unique place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the history of Australia. You Me Unity is the national conversation about updating our Constitution to recognise our first peoples and define equality for all Australians.

Public service engagement framework

To mark National Reconciliation Week in May 2011, the Department released Engaging Today, Building Tomorrow, a new Australian Public Service framework that guides engagement practices with Indigenous Australians. The framework is built around the principle that the way we engage should set an example of democratic practice and help build the capacity of Indigenous people to work with government.