50 years of Indigenous Affairs

Fifty years ago Commonwealth administration of Indigenous Affairs began. It followed the 1967 Referendum, which saw two relatively modest changes to the text of the Australian Constitution. There was nothing modest, however, about the radical social change and rupture with the past that 1967 represented and the promise it had for all Australians.

The Australian Public Service (APS) was unprepared for the change and its new role. It lacked knowledge of Australia’s diverse First Peoples and knew little about how to engage. Fifty years on, the APS has yet to settle its practice, and while improvements have been made, they have not been fast enough to close the gap in disadvantage between First Peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. 

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has partnered with the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), the Institute of Public Administration of Australia (IPAA), the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (AIATSIS) and the University of Sydney organising forums for thoughtful discussion about these important issues.


Australian Journal of Public Administration

The December issue of the Australian Journal of Public Administration has a special section on Indigenous public administration edited by Catherine Althaus (ANZSOG) and Michelle Patterson, featuring key articles by four outstanding academics: Sana Nakata, Woppaburra Guami Enkil (Angela Leitch), Professor Ian Anderson and Will Sanders.

Australia and New Zealand Senior Indigenous Public Servants Forum

An active network of senior Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori public servants came together to share knowledge and experience, and support Indigenous leadership across all areas of  the public sector in December 2017.

The purpose of the Forum was to establish cross-jurisdictional networks and share experiences of both challenges and success.

The Australia and New Zealand School of Government has produced an outcomes report with The Australian National University, ANZSOG Senior Indigenous Public Servant Forum Report.


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Contact Us

Email: Michelle.Patterson@pmc.gov.au

Michelle Patterson is a Special Adviser to the Associate Secretary of Indigenous Affairs and a driver behind this year’s critical focus on the state of Indigenous Public Administration.  Immediately prior, Michelle was the Deputy CEO at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Moving in and out of academia; a master in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and starting (but not quite finishing!) her PhD with the Centre for Indigenous Policy, Dialog and Research at UNSW, she is passionate about the need to better theorise public service practice and open up this often hidden activity to research and public critique – so that it does better. With an APS practice history that has included the (2001-04) COAG whole of government Indigenous Trials, creation of the Commonwealth Single Indigenous Budget and the earlier mainstreaming of Indigenous Affairs post ATSIC (recently reversed with the reconsolidation of many programs back into one portfolio), Michelle has moved in and out of the ‘mainstream’ of the APS working also in Industrial Relations, National Security, Competition Policy, Regional Affairs, Human Resources and Social Inclusion.     

You can also join the conversation with the Indigenous public administration hashtag: #IndigPA.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this website may contain images and voices of deceased people.