Aboriginal activist slams new body as a joke

"Do Kevin Rudd and Jenny Macklin truly think that we Aborigines are childlike and cannot see the insult being waged against us with the establishment of such an irrelevant organisation?"

Included in this Page: Congress shuns ATSIC example | Congress directors list | Geoff Clark Comments

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Goodooga, northwest NSW, 5 May 10

Aboriginal Activist Sister

Aboriginal political activist, Michael Anderson, says the Rudd government's attempt to pacify the Aboriginal people by establishing the Aboriginal Congress of First Nations is an absolute joke and a waste of public $30 million of public funds.

"When the acronym ATSIC was touted by the Aboriginal people as 'Aborigines talking shit in Canberra', this as a replacement is sickening and the waste that people spoke of with ATSIC pales into significance when we look at this organisation," Mr Anderson writes in a media release.

"Do the Prime Minister and his Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Jenny Macklin, truly think that we Aborigines are childlike and cannot see the insult being waged against us with the establishment of such an irrelevant organisation, and then to say that they represent Aborigines when NO public elections are being held for its membership?"

Mr Anderson argues that if you look at the structure of this body it is a job creation program for broken down and irrelevant former public servants who want to be leaders of the Aboriginal populace.

"Aboriginal people must take a stand against this mockery," says Mr Anderson and calls on them throughout Australia "to stand up to this assault on our intelligence and refuse to have anything to do with this organisation; and make it known loud and wide that this is not an organisation that represents anything to do with Aboriginal people."

The Aborigines named in this organisation are people who would sell their own mother and all her heirlooms, Mr Anderson writes. "What chance do we have?"

"What Sam Jefferies, the deputy chair of the Congress, says about closing the gap of Aboriginal disadvantage is a joke," Mr Anderson says.

"He fails to realise the bigger picture which is that our people are being discriminated against with martial law imposed on Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory in the guise of an intervention program.

"The incarceration rates of Aboriginal youth and adults are the highest in Australia, making our population in the prisons the highest in a country that is supposed to be free.

"Our section of the community continues to have the highest suicide rate in the Australia population etc etc," Mr Anderson notes.

"To fight the establishment over these disproportionate figures and at the same time represent these people, take on the government and to fight against the intervention on behalf of the people of the Northern Territory is the task Sam Jefferies should be talking about instead of dreaming of dollar signs and being a friend of the multi-nationals and then maybe an Australian award for his contribution in Aboriginal Affairs.

"This is a farce and should be called what it is: the joke of the 21st new millennium," Mr Anderson writes.

"Prime Minister Kevin Rudd needs to reassess his options because $30 million for this charade is a total waste and Aboriginal people will hound this puppet organisation of the Labor government and the multinationals," he says.

"The people who accept a position within this organisation cannot be so blind as not to see that they are being used. The government seek to pass the buck when it comes to direct consultations with Aboriginal people on these imposed restrictions and rules of tyranny being applied to our people, not to mention the approvals the multi-nationals need to forcefully acquire Aboriginal lands for mining, so what better way than to locate some misfit and ambitious want-to-be-Aborigines."

Michael Anderson can be contacted at 02 68296355 landline, 04272 92 492 mobile, 02 68296375 fax, ngurampaa@bigpond.com.au

The Aboriginal congress shuns the ATSIC example ... but are we convinced?

"We have set the very highest standards of integrity for our people. Those standards were very clearly demanded from our people through the consultation and I don't think we should be compromising all that we can be in the community." Congress leader Kerry Arabena

"I'm a bit past saying that government's responsible for everything. The non-government agencies ... get enormous amounts of money to deliver services to Aboriginal communities so let's be fair about that." Congress leader Sam Jeffries

Yuko Narushima Sydney Morning Herald May 8th 2010

Click to Enlarge

The Indigenous Steering Committee that guided the establishment of new National Congress. Photo: Lorrie Graham
Read More: indigenous.gov.au

When Kerry Arabena was told the Royal Flying Doctor Service could not attend to a young boy whose finger had been severed, she was furious. "That boy was going to be a concert pianist," she said before slamming down the phone.

Reflecting on what sparked her passion for indigenous justice this week, the public health specialist came back to that moment.

"That was a pivotal point," the 42-year-old says. "I realised that I could be incensed with rage about how systems could deny people entry, or make economic decisions about what their value was."

Last Sunday, Arabena was announced as the leader of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, alongside the equally passionate Sam Jeffries, a Mooraworri man from north-western NSW.

Both are acutely aware of the vacuum left in indigenous representation after the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission was abolished more than five years ago. In that period, governments have started and expanded the intervention into remote indigenous communities, endorsed an Aboriginal Employment Covenant and unveiled housing programs without the input of a national indigenous voice.

"I've seen the void that was created by not having a national opinion," says Jeffries, who served on ATSIC from beginning to end.

He is humbled to be lending a microphone to that new collective voice.

ATSIC's demise followed an embezzlement investigation and rape allegations against its chairman, Geoff Clark.

The body also became a scapegoat for the government when services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were deficient and was blamed when the inequality between black and white Australia persisted.

As the former social justice commissioner, Tom Calma, said when announcing the body last year: "We don't want to take the blame for second-class treatment by government any more."

The congress is not a revival of ATSIC. The committee that advised on its structure very deliberately built in safeguards to ensure distance from government.

It splits executive positions evenly between men and women and has an ethics committee to combat perceptions of corruptibility. Moreover, the congress is set up as a company, with the announcement of a chief executive imminent.

"We have set the very highest standards of integrity for our people," Arabena says. "Those standards were very clearly demanded from our people through the consultation and I don't think we should be compromising all that we can be in the community."

One of the yokes of the old body was the "western structure" demanded of it, says the NSW Minister for Community Services, Linda Burney.

Aboriginal culture requires people to speak only for their distinct nation while a peak body necessitates speaking on many nations' behalf. "ATSIC had Aboriginal culture on one hand, and the way in which representation takes place in Australia on the other. That's the way it was structured," Burney says, and the congress finds a happier medium.

She is candid about the need for the not-for-profit sector to accept more responsibility.

"I'm a bit past saying that government's responsible for everything," the activist-turned-politician says. "The non-government agencies ... get enormous amounts of money to deliver services to Aboriginal communities so let's be fair about that."

Jeffries, 47, from Brewarrina, most recently headed the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly in western NSW. He does not wish to jump the gun on policy positions that the congress has yet to discuss.

Undeterred by criticism the new body will be a toothless tiger, he is busy securing permanent office space in Sydney and Canberra and circulating membership forms to people in the community.

The congress aims to influence government, representing organisations such as indigenous medical corporations and land councils, and previously unaligned individuals.

Ultimately it will comprise 120 delegates, with the aim of having strong youth representation.

"We can't be all things to all people and most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around Australia will make a choice about whether they become part of it," he says.

"There's a whole range of people who are wanting to become part of it just for the sake of having a national voice.

"It's reconnecting us with the decision-making processes that impact on our lives."

Jeffries became interested in advancing indigenous rights when he heard activist Charlie Perkins speak in Walgett about the development of ATSIC in 1989.

"I started to understand the political opportunity that was coming for Aboriginal people," he says.

For years before that talk, Jeffries had promised to escape the politics his father, an ALP branch manager, brought home most nights.

Jeffries's father, though he was not Aboriginal, had always said: "If anyone ever degrades Aboriginal people, they're degrading your mother because of her Aboriginal heritage."

Jeffries recognises that as the seed of his hopes to do better. Similarly, Arabena's position allows her to continue the fight for a more equal Australia.

"It's the kind of agency that you can really bring your heart to," she says. "I'm really motivated to do the very best I can because I understand what it means for our kids and grandkids."

The first congress meets to formulate national opinions at the end of the year.

The eight directors of the new National Congress of Australia's First Peoples have been announced


National Congress: Media Release pdf | Executive List pdf | Poscasts

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Pictured: (from left) Kerry Arabena (co-chair), Sam Jeffries (co-chair), Colleen Hayward, Peter Buckskin, Daphne Yarram, Josephine Bourne, Klynton Wanganeen. Absent: Ned David.

The new national Indigenous representative body has moved from the creation to the implementation phase, following the announcement of its board of directors at a press conference in Sydney.

"What a momentous occasion, words cannot describe the feelings in this room at the moment," said Sam Jeffries, co-chair of the congress' National Executive, following the announcement.

"Today is a starting point, it is a siren call to our communities that after many years of discussion the congress is now a real proposition and its directors can now build an organisation that we can be proud of.

"The congress will create a national and collective voice and be a partner for government and industry and a think-tank for our issues and our peoples."
Fellow co-chair Kerry Arabena says the structure and guidelines of the National Congress establish a new standard in corporate responsibility and ethics.

"The congress is a real testament to the democratic tradition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have embraced for many decades," Arabena said. "We have founded this organisation on clear principles demanded by our own constituency: sustainability, integrity, merit-based selection, independence from government, accountability and openness and transparency.

"We have a great deal of work ahead of us in order for us to deliver the first annual congress and to crystallise the policies and procedures for how the new body will work."

The eight National Congress board directors are:

  • Sam Jeffries (co-chair), Murrawari nation from north-west NSW and southern QLD, born and raised in Brewarrina, NSW
  • Kerry Arabena (co-chair), descendant of the Meriam people of the Torres Strait
  • Josephine Bourne, mainland Torres Strait Islander born in Townsville, QLD, with her ancestors from the Mabuiag, Murray and Moa (Kubin) Islands in the Torres Strait
  • Peter Buckskin, Narungga man from the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia
  • Ned David, Torres Strait Islander linked to the Komet tribe of Mer (Murray Island) and the Tudulaig of the Kulkalgal nation (Central Islands of the Torres Strait)
  • Colleen Hayward, senior Aboriginal woman of the Noongar nation in the south-west of Western Australia
  • Klynton Wanganeen, descendant of the Narungga and Ngarrindjeri nations in South Australia
  • Daphne Yarram, Noongar woman, born at Gnowangerup on an Aboriginal mission in South West Western Australia, now living in Victoria.

The announcements were made at the historic Aun Sydney, the site of the landmark 1938 Aborigines Conference led by Aboriginal rights campaigner Jack Paton.

"More than 70 years ago the Aborigines Conference was held here and Jack Paton as its president said in this very space 'We have decided to make our voice heard,'" co-chair Jeffries told the press conference.

"We have come a long way since then but the themes are still current."

The founding eight directors have been selected by the congress steering committee but will be replaced later in the year by directors elected by a national forum of delegates from across Australia.

National Congress 'A non-event' - says Geoff Clark

Alex Sinnott Warrnambool Standard 06 May, 2010

Geoff Clark at his Framlingham home
Photo: Robin Sharrockrd
Source: Sydney Morning Herald

Geoff Clark has slammed the launch of the new national indigenous representative body, declaring it a "non-event."

The outspoken Aboriginal activist said the new National Congress of Australia's First Peoples was undemocratic and subservient to the federal government.

The executive board of the newly-established congress was announced in Sydney this week and the organisation will be fully functioning next year.

Mr Clark was the last leader of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) before it was disbanded in 2005 and said the new representative congress was a token gesture.

"Aboriginal people in this country have less democratic representation in this country than the citizens in Afghanistan have in theirs," he said.

"This new congress lacks anything in the way of indigenous representation.

''It's just there for show, to make people feel like the government is doing something.

"There are some worthy people on the congress but it won't be taken seriously because the Prime Minister doesn't take it seriously."

Mr Clark said recent poor polling by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party was in part a result of the government's actions on indigenous affairs. "There was the big sorry from Kevin Rudd a couple of years ago and then nothing since," Mr Clark said.

"What policies, if any, has the current federal government put forward to better the lives of Australia's indigenous people?

"This organisation is undemocratic, (it's launch) was a non-event and is only there to give the illusion that the Federal Government is trying to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians."

The Australian Human Rights Council has endorsed the new congress, describing it as groundbreaking.