IAC’s future is unclear
The Turnbull government’s muddled approach to Indigenous Affairs continued last month, with the dissolution of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC) on January 31. As the Koori Mail reported in November last year, after the three-year appointments to the IAC expired on November 23, Turnbull extended the time-frame until January 31 this year.
The IAC met once in that extension, in mid-December.
From its formation under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott the IAC has been plagued with criticism from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bodies and people, with many pointing to problems with hand-picking advisors and issues surrounding transparency and purpose.
The last publicly available communiqué from the IAC is dated February 11 , 2016 – almost a year ago. A spokesperson for Turnbull said he was “committed to the continuation” of the IAC.
“Members’ terms were extended until January 31 and then the appointment of new members goes through usual Cabinet processes,” she said. However, it seems unlikely that previous chair Warren Mundine will be reappointed. In October last year Mundine took a public swipe at the federal government after they announced an inquiry into Indigenous incarceration without bothering to consult the IAC, saying he was “getting sick and tired of the crap that is coming out of this government in regard to Indigenous Affairs”.
“I’m not fussed in regard to the positions finishing,” Mundine told the Koori Mail. “What’s important is that this Prime Minister has to put his mark in the Indigenous Affairs area, put out his policies going forward. I think that’s critical. We’ve had the Productivity Commission report into Indigenous Affairs, the national audit of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and we’re about to see another Close the Gap report – which I’d firmly say is again going to be a damning report. So the big question is, ‘What is the Turnbull government going to do?’”
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples – the democratically elected Indigenous peak body – suggested that Turnbull scrap the IAC altogether and, instead, seek advice from already existing Indigenous organisations.
“This goes to very heart of the efforts to emphasise the importance of Congress with its membership expertise and experience across all sectors to the minister and Prime Minister,” co-chair Rod Little said.
“Congress is and will be a much more valuable informant to the parliament than hand-picked individuals with lesser networks, knowledge or experience across matters impacting on our people on a daily basis.”
Congress co-chair Jackie Huggins said it had been made clear last year through the Redfern Statement (a set of guidelines developed by Indigenous peak bodies for effective policy development in Indigenous affairs) that Indigenous people have the solutions.
“We have within our membership professionals, academics, experienced persons and organisations plus most importantly, the beneficiaries of services who would in anyone’s mind be the best sources to inform of the impacts of policies, programs and services,” she said.
“Prime Minister, we are here. We have been for a number of years and will be for many more. It is time for genuine engagement with Congress.”