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The Guardian 28 January, 2009

Calma names committee
for new representative body

Kirstie Parker

A new national Indigenous representative body is drawing closer, with a steering committee poised to decide who’ll attend a national summit or workshop expected to be held to discuss the matter next month. The committee, headed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, will select about 100 individuals and peak body representatives for the gathering following a public nomination process currently under way.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin announced in mid-December that Mr Calma, also Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, would lead the new committee.

Mr Calma congratulated the government for recognising that the process should be led by Indigenous people and promptly announced ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who would join him in running the summit and other consultations before proposing a model to government in July.

The Committee would consider the outcomes of earlier public consultations too, and develop options for the representative body.

In the six months to December, Ms Macklin’s Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) held 80 public meetings and received more than 100 submissions.

Amongst other things, they canvassed the merits of an elected versus appointed body; whether the new body should have any service delivery role; and the extent to which it should be able to hold governments and bureaucrats accountable.

Mr Calma said steering committee members were chosen for their experience and knowledge of national representative body mechanisms and reflected a balance of geographic representation, gender and age.

Those named were:

  • Kimberley performer and Stolen Generations activist Mark Bin Bakar (WA)

  • Leadership specialist and policy adviser Tanya Hosch (SA)

  • NSWALC CEO and former ATSIC Deputy CEO Geoff Scott (NSW)

  • Author, historian and academic Jackie Huggins, who was touted as a possible new Queensland Governor last year (Qld)

  • Rising lawyer and youth advocate Tim Goodwin (Victoria and youth representative)

  • High-profile Yolngu community leader Yananymul Mununggurr (NT Top End homelands communities)

  • Reconciliation strategist Jason Glanville (ACT)

  • Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, Barkly Shire President and Australia’s first Aboriginal Anglican nun (NT, Central Australia)

  • Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) Chairperson Toshie Kris (Torres Strait Islands)

  • Youth worker and Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre State Secretary Nala Mansell-McKenna (Tasmania and youth representative).

    Professor Mick Dodson, whose National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University (ANU) researched a representative body discussion paper for Mr Calma last year, will participate in an advisory role.

    Ms Macklin repeated the government’s commitment to establishing the body during its current first term, although Mr Calma reportedly believes it could be operational by the end of the year. "The government is determined to reset the relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians," she said.

    "The national apology to Indigenous Australians, in particular the Stolen Generations, was the first step in building a bridge between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

    "It is vital that Indigenous people have a voice and a means to express it."

    The former Howard government scrapped the elected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in 2004 amidst claims of corruption and bungled service delivery.

    However, Ms Macklin’s repeated declarations that the new representative body will not be "another ATSIC" continue to rankle, with some people believing they signal an overly prescriptive approach by government.

    The nation’s largest elected representative Aboriginal organisation, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC), backed Mr Calma to lead the next stage of consultations. Council Chairperson Bev Manton contrasted Mr Calma’s earlier "considered and informed" discussion paper on a representative body with "self-anointed and media-hyped Aboriginal leaders whose only contribution to the debate so far had been the simple and unconstructive mantra of not another ATSIC".

    Former members of the Howard government’s National Indigenous Council Warren Mundine and Wesley Aird are amongst those who earlier questioned the need for such a body.

    Ms Manton said Aboriginal people felt let down by "the meagre and hasty" representative body consultations so far, but said the planned summit was a move in the right direction. "We live in hope that for once the considered views of representatives on the final format of a national body will be listened to — and that it will in fact be truly national and representative," she said.

    Tasmanian activist Michael Mansell said the chances of a national Aboriginal voice that would speak frankly about the needs of Aboriginal people and have no fear of government were not looking good. "Will they reject Jenny Macklin’s increasing demands for the shape of the national body to be as she wants, or will they capitulate?" he said of the steering committee.

    "A national black voice must be free, and seen to be free, to speak on behalf of all Aboriginal people."

    Steering committee member Nala Mansell-McKenna echoed Mr Mansell’s comments to fire an early warning shot to government.

    "The body must be credible in the eyes of Aboriginal people. It must be totally independent of government influence," she said in a statement.

    "The role of the federal government is to fund the body, not to run it.

    "Only Aboriginal people can be on the body, only Aboriginal people can decide who sits on the national body and only Aboriginal people will have the power to sack. We will not tolerate any arrangement where the federal minister can sack or appoint."

    The Koori Mail

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