The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples - Survey

  Top Priority policy issues from the survey
Issue %
sovereignty – constitutional recognition 55
health – mental health and emotional wellbeing 42
sovereignty – treaties and agreements 37
education – early childhood 31
education – school and transitions (to work or higher ed) 31
health – access to health care 21
health – general 20
country - land rights, native title and land access 17
health – chronic disease 16
Other 16

Pro Bono Australia July 28th 2011

Being recognised in the constitution is a top priority for indigenous Australians, according to a ground-breaking survey by the newly formed organisation, National Congress of Australia's First Peoples
National Congress of Australia's First Peoples surveyed 600 of its members and found 88 per cent think it is very important that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people receive recognition in the constitution.

It's the first survey on policy priorities from the organisation's Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander membership.

Health, sovereignty and education were highlighted by the majority of members as the most
important areas of policy.

• More than half of the respondents - 55% - chose health, education and sovereignty as their top priority policy areas
Within those policy areas
• Health - mental health and emotional wellbeing (42%) and access to health care (21%)
were highlighted
• Education - early childhood education (31%) and school and transition to work (31%) were
the areas of most concern
• Sovereignty - recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution
was seen as a top priority (88%), 77% said constitutional protection of Indigenous rights
was also important and 58% highlighted constitutional protection against racial
discrimination

Accountability for Governments and the Congress itself, partnerships and research were highlighted as being the most important areas of operation to members.

As well, the majority of those surveyed want the constitution to acknowledge indigenous people's "spiritual, social, cultural and economic relationship with traditional lands and waters."

Recognition of 'original custodians of the land' received the second highest vote.

Congress Chief Executive Lindon Coombes says the report is the just the start for more Congress surveys and these first results show their members speaking loud and clear.

Coombes says the challenge now is to turn these voices from ideas to actions.

The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples was incorporated in April 2010 to be a national advocacy body for Indigenous Australians.

Indigenous want seats reserved in Parliament: Congress

Misha Schubert The Age July 31st 2011

Indigenous Australians have urged their new national leadership body to push for seats in parliament to be reserved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Almost two-thirds of those surveyed by the new National Congress of Australia's First Peoples said they wanted to see indigenous seats in the parliament, alongside other changes to the constitution to be voted on in 2013.

New Zealand has set aside Maori seats in parliament since 1867, with every part of the country covered by both a general and an indigenous electorate. Indigenous New Zealanders comprise 15 per cent of the population, compared to 2.3 per cent in Australia.

But the leaders of Australia's indigenous congress warned reserved seats might only result in "tokenism" and argued there were better ways to ensure that indigenous people had a stronger voice in law-making.

Co-chairperson Jody Broun said more debate was needed among indigenous people about how reserved seats might work, and whether they were a better vehicle for change than advancement in mainstream political parties.

"I've got an open mind on it," she said. "I think we have really good representation from a lot of people who have come through the existing process like [federal Liberal MP] Ken Wyatt. We are already seeing Aboriginal people coming through and gaining seats and we have Aboriginal people in almost every Parliament. If that were the only thing [being proposed], I am not sure it is something I would support."

The organisation's other chairperson, Les Malezer, said the level of support for indigenous seats reflected a broader frustration about the limited power of indigenous representation now.

He advocated giving indigenous people sweeping powers over the services and laws in their own communities by establishing self-government at a local community level instead. He said this was already happening in many parts of Queensland.

"Even with reserved seats, we will still be in a minority," he said. "If legislation is being enacted, those people will have no power at all. It may provide tokenism in the parliament but it won't do anything to increase political participation or decision making."

The congress surveyed its membership of indigenous people and organisations in May, asking them to help shape its advocacy on changes to the constitution for the referendum in 2013.

Members said they wanted the constitution to recognise indigenous rights to land and culture, ban racial discrimination and protect any future treaty struck with indigenous people.

Indigenous people also urged the congress to campaign for better services for indigenous people in mental health, early childhood and school education and health care.

The national congress was formed last year and now has 2500 members, including 120 organisations.

Indigenous Australians have had no elected national voice since the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission was abolished in 2005.