Indigenous Affairs conference an opportunity for different perspectives and views to connect

Dr Sandra Phillips speaking to attendees of the conference
  • Published Date: 26 October 2017

ANZSOG’s 2017 Cant We Do Better: Indigenous Affairs and Public Administration conference brought together hundreds of public servants, academics and representatives of Indigenous organisations.

Attendees we spoke to found the forum to be a good way to discover, share and discuss views from different perspectives, while learning from each other.

Over the day and a half, there were a wide range of views and outlooks presented, providing attendees with a host of opinions and new ideas to take in.

It was clear that hearing different perspectives and views is an important part of learning from each other, through respect and listening to other ideas.

Andrew Tongue, from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, spoke about how it is important to create an element of respect, where: "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples feel included, in all operations of the agency, but that they feel safe to express a point of view that might challenge something that’s going on."

Jean O’Reeri, of the Binarri-binyja Yarrawoo Aboriginal Corporation, acknowledged some of the shortcomings of the past, but commented that the conference overall was a great opportunity to find a positive way forward together.

"I like the across the board ideas and how we can deal with the difficulties we are having with government and hopefully we can all work together in harmony", she said.

Other attendees, like Warren Martin, of the Department of Family and Community Services, acknowledged progress. "We are at a place now that there is a lot of knowledge and understanding around Aboriginal issues, and the value of having Aboriginal people in the workforce", he said.

However one important issue that was raised by Kiritina Johnston, from the Ministry of Education New Zealand, is the falsity that Indigenous people working in the public sector can only work on Indigenous related aspects. “One of the things that doesn’t work is thinking that Indigenous people can only do Indigenous things in the public service. Indigenous people can do whatever needs to be done," she said.

This backs ANZSOG’s call for greater representation of Indigenous people at all levels of Australia and New Zealand’s public services.


Watch delegates and participants talk about the conference and what we could do the improve Indigenous affairs:


Attendees made their own contribution to the conference by presenting their ideas in a reflective exercise themed around a ‘river walk. Participants were asked to write down their thoughts responding to four prompts:

I will continue…

I will stop…

I will start…

My big idea…

The collated reflections were positioned on the ground like the path of a river, and displayed the many different ideas and views about advocacy, agitation, health, encouragement and better engagement.

Some of the reflections recorded ranged from specific policy related changes: 

Advocate innovative ways to implement policy change to Indigenous people starting with ensuring community engagement is done properly.

While some looked inwards for new outcomes:

Ask different questions. See different answers.

Many attendees wrote of how they would examine Indigenous representation in their organisations and look at their own hiring practices.

The river walk proved to be an interesting and engaging way to present ideas, not only highlighting the vast levels of knowledge present, but also demonstrating that ideas and reflections can come from and in, all shapes and forms.

A full report detailing the next steps and outcomes will be released soon.


Photo: Dr Sandra Phillips speaking to attendees of the conference