Reconciliation Week 2018: What is the future of Indigenous policy?

Indigenous writers have called on Australia to listen to Indigenous voices and provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with real avenues to self-determination in the latest edition of the Griffith Review.
  • Published Date: 31 May 2018

Indigenous writers have called on Australia to listen to Indigenous voices and provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with real avenues to self-determination in the latest edition of the Griffith Review.

ANZSOG is partnering with the Review, and the Melbourne School of Government, on 25 June to launch the Review’s latest volume First things First – an exploration of Indigenous history and an attempt to imagine a better future.

Journalist Stan Grant’s contribution - My Grandfather’s Equality - analyses the challenges and satisfactions of maintaining Indigenous identity in a globalised world, and multicultural nation.

It calls for Australia to be united by values, not divided by race and culture. 

“We have those among us who would feed on endless grievance,” Grant writes.

“We have our shipwrecked minds attached to a militant nostalgia. We have our populists, who, like populists everywhere, need fear, suspicion and division to stay alive. But like populists everywhere, they spin a compelling tale. The politics of identity, of separation and exclusion, is not the cure for populism – it is the root of populism itself.”

The First Things First edition was conceived in the wake of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the Commonwealth Government’s rejection of the idea of an Indigenous ‘Voice to Parliament’. 

It explores the barriers preventing recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the creation of a Treaty, as well as charting the successes and failures of Indigenous affairs policy over recent decades.

First Things First describes the Statement from the Heart as: “the most extensive form of political consultation ever undertaken in Australia, for the first time it drew together competing interests and perspectives in the often-fraught world of Indigenous politics. The rigour of the dialogues was quite different to the usual tick-the-box consultation.”

RELATED: ANZSOG's Indigenous Public Servants Forum:

Can’t we do better?

The issue covers similar themes to ANZSOG’s Public Administration and Indigenous Affairs: Can’t We Do Better?” conference, organised in partnership with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), in October last year. 

The conference marked 50 years since the 1967 referendum which resulted in the Commonwealth gaining national responsibility for the administration of Indigenous affairs. The event was attended by almost 300 people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives and public servants from state and federal governments and academics.

The co-editors of First Things First, Professor Julianne Schultz – founding editor of Griffith Review – and Dr Sandra Phillips - from Queensland University of Technology’s Creative Industries Faculty - presented at the 2017 conference, where they put the call out for contributions.

Several conference speakers contributed to First Things First, including Dr Phillips herself. Dr Phillips, in A Rightful Path: Educating for Change and Achievement, writes about the often-unacknowledged success of Indigenous Australians in higher education, noting the growth in university graduates over the last four decades and the number of Indigenous Australians studying at Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

She says that: “We continue to participate in mainstream education as descendants of the world’s oldest living culture while carving out success on mainstream terms sometimes complementary with, and sometimes antithetical to, our cultural inheritance and our future interests. Getting that balancing act right takes all our guile.”

Dr Gregory Phillips – Research Fellow in Aboriginal Health at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, and Can’t we do better? conference speaker - imagines an Australian republic where Aboriginal knowledge and culture takes a central place in No Republic Without a Soul.

He writes that: “A republic is our chance to negotiate joint ownership, power and resource between black and white Australians – to make things right. The even stronger option is the full truth – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are the landowners, and white peoples and their parliament’s lease is up for renewal: how would you like to start re-negotiating?”

Dr Will Sanders, from ANU’s Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, in, Beware the people-focused omnibus, outlines the history of federal Indigenous policy since the Whitlam era, the loss of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice after the abolition of ATSIC and the long-standing tensions between Indigenous-specific departments and ensuring that all parts of government consider Indigenous concerns.He says that: “If governments just rely on functional line departments, policy for a group of people can feel weak or non-existent. If, on the other hand, governments create a strong, people-focused organisation, there is a risk that the functional departments will no longer see those people as their responsibility.”

Associate Professor Maggie Walter, from the University of Tasmania, explores the shortcomings of data relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Professor Walter notes that despite a huge a volume of this data, most of it is too broad, too far removed from the context that Indigenous people live in, and/or restricted to government agencies rather than Indigenous people. In addition, data is collected in a way that focuses on deficits and pits Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians against each other.  She says that “there is too much data about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but almost no data for or by us”. 

First things First delivers strong contemporary insights from leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It is a unique collection which shares transformative information, structural challenges and personal stories, and aims to be an urgent chorus for true recognition of and self-determination for Indigenous Australians.

Find out more about the Public Administration and Indigenous Affairs: Can’t We Do Better? conference here.