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.


Dr Martin Parkinson, 19th Wentworth Lecture

27 September 2017
Gandel Hall, National Gallery of Australia
Parkes Pl E, Parkes ACT

The Wentworth Lectures honour the contribution of Sir William (Bill) Wentworth to the creation of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in 1964; now a world-renowned research, collecting and publishing organisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander cultures, traditions, languages and stories. 

In the thirty-six years since the first lecture, there have been eighteen Wenthworth lecturers, all of whom were given full rein as to the topic and content. To some extent all deal with wider political, social and economic, and in some cases, religious, factors. Taken together, they are a veritable who’s who of the leading intellectuals in the field. Dr Parkinson’s will mark a broad-sweep of the post-1967 history, notable figures, and focus on the adaptive challenge for public administration Australia-wide. Invited guests only. The Lecture will be recorded , transcribed and made available shortly thereafter.

Indigenous Affairs and Public Administration: Can’t we do better?

International conference. University of Sydney

October 9-10
The Refectory, University of Sydney
October 9, 6:00pm - 9:30pm: Pre-conference dinner
October 10, 8:30am - 5:00pm: Conference

In partnership, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), the University of Sydney, and the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) are holding an international conference that questions the impact of the past 50 years of public administration and raise issues for the next 50 years in this important nation building area. 

DPMC is seeking to build and foster a public canon of knowledge to open the history of Indigenous policy and administrative practice to greater scrutiny and discussion.

The Indigenous Affairs and Public Administration Conference, ‘Can’t we do better?’ will be attended by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, other Indigenous peoples, public servants from state and federal governments, and the academic community. The conference will feature a range of guest presenters, including Australia’s Chris Sarra, Andrea Mason and Martin Nakata, New Zealand’s Arapata Hakiwai and Geraint Martin, as well as other international speakers.

For more details and to register vist the ANZOG website.


Early bird tickets (until September 1): $150
Regular tickets: $250
Full time student concession tickets: $25

ANZSOG and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet are providing some travel support and waiving conference fees for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communityattending the conference from remote locations.

To enquire about your eligibility, please contact conference2017@anzsog.edu.au.

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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.