Ms Andrea Mason, Speech at ANZSOG Conference

Ms Andrea Mason, Speech at ANZSOG Conference

Indigenous Affairs 50 years of Indigenous Affairs Indigenous Advisory Council
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Co-Chair, Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council

The Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) is a global leader in education and government-focused research relevant to the public sector. ANZOG supports the development of better educated, informed and motivated public sector leaders, and works to ensure the development of better ideas, evidence and networks. All this delivers public value through better government and better outcomes for citizens.

The Indigenous Affairs and Public Administration Conference: Can’t we do better, on 9 - 10th October 2017, at the University of Sydney, was the first time ANZSOG played an active leadership role in relation to Indigenous public administration and brought its expertise to these issues. Speakers at the conference tackled a range of topics and discussed ways in which public services can more effectively collaborate with Indigenous peoples and make better use of Indigenous knowledge.

Ms Andrea Mason, Co-Chair, Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, participated in a panel discussion on New boundaries for policy making – Indigenous perspectives on data, cases and evidence. Ms Mason reflected on the concept of an ‘Indigenous Governance Operating Rhythm’ as a way forward in Indigenous affairs. Please see below a transcript of her speech:

Before I begin, I would like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, we are meeting on their lands today, I acknowledge their love for country, community and culture.

Can I have an honest conversation with you this morning.  

The background reading material for today’s session: “New boundaries for policy making – Indigenous perspectives on data, cases and evidence” brings to mind a number of initial thoughts.   I do have some experience with how data is used to inform policy and how its framed by governments to discuss and implement policy in Indigenous Affairs. I have been inside the public service and in sectors that either receive funding or compliment the policy framework of polices of government and I have worked outside of government in the non-government sector.   I understand NPY Women’s Council still manages the most government contracts of any single Indigenous corporation in Australia, this reality has required us to be in conversations of reducing red tape compliance in government since 2005.

So I have been asking myself these questions in recent weeks:

  • Who benefits from the machinery of Indigenous Affairs in government including financially?
  • Is Indigenous Affairs based on an Indigenous governance operating rhythm?  If not, can it be changed to accommodate an Indigenous governance operating rhythm?  
  • If space was created for an Indigenous governance operating rhythm within the non-Indigenous operating rhythm, would benefit increase? Would it by its very nature correct or amend the non-indigenous operating rhythm of government in Indigenous Affairs?

These questions are fundamental when thinking about data, cases and evidence because data is not the end, it’s a means to an end. And so what is this end?

I would like to share with you now are my perspective on the Indigenous governance operating rhythm and the non-Indigenous governance operating rhythm.

This country, comprising its heavens and lands and seas, has had its own governance operating rhythm humming away for thousands of years.  I saw this rhythm as a young person growing up in Kalgoorlie and Adelaide. I observed senior men and women from my family and the Aboriginal community in general, draw on a motivation that came from a particular place of knowledge and authority to challenge and change the way things were done. 

In Australia, we proudly acknowledge the magnitude of the Indigenous governance operating rhythm when we hear how long Indigenous people have walked this country, it’s applauded and honoured, unfortunately this rhythm is largely absent from the day to day life of Australians. At its heart, this Indigenous governance operating rhythm has set structures for social, economic, cultural and political order and its foundation has a bias that leans towards and elevates cultural embrace.

This is not to say we don’t have an aspirational drive, like our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters where aspiration is the core driver, it just means our culture owns us and we own it and it gives us the foundation of our identity as we pursue our aspirations.  This drive is deep. And this generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders have a deep passion to sync a modern iteration of this rhythm, that honours and continues the components from ancient times, connects to a modern iteration, as well as offering a balance to the non-Indigenous governance rhythm at the highest level.  

I believe Indigenous Australians aspire and desire to see non-Indigenous Australians understand this operating rhythm, to see merit in it and through this effort, show leadership and create a space for it.  There are current examples that are pointing towards key components of the rhythm: the voice, truth telling and agreement making in constitutional recognition and the Empowered Communities regional model offers an example of finding the balance.

Agreeing to first nations people to take the lead in managing an Indigenous governance operating rhythm within the non-Indigenous governance operating rhythm is critical. Indigenous communities criss-cross this country following national, state and local lines such a network is not a cluster of chaos, but is ordered through a rhythm that has the ability to operate at different levels, to be in sync and to make things work. Acceptance of this rhythm and accepting its value by non-Indigenous Australians, is not the end game it is the first gain.

And if these rhythms are embedded across the nation, would we see a reduction in the numbers of Aboriginal people in incarceration, children in out of home care, improve education and employment outcomes, see an expansion of Indigenous businesses, and see better outcomes for the government spend in Indigenous Affairs?

In my view I believe we would see improvement.

If Indigenous Affairs was based on an Indigenous governance operating rhythm, who would benefit, and would it by its very nature correct or amend the non-indigenous operating rhythm of government?

I am willing to have the conversation.

Thank you