In December 2008 the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner convened an Independent Steering Committee to research a preferred model for a national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
In 2009, a comprehensive series of consultations and workshops were held around the country gathering feedback and advice from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities about the model.
The consultations culminated in November 2009 with the release of the Steering Committee’s our future our hands.
The Committee wound up its work in April 2010 when the first Board of the National Congress was appointed and the company was incorporated. Other AHRC reports and documents outline the consultations and meetings about the creation of a new representative body and explain some of the background to the Congress.
In spite of some criticism, National Congress has grown to become the largest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organization in the country, counting as members over 180 organizations and almost 9,000 individual members.
A criticism sometimes levelled by government at National Congress is that it is not a legitimate representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by virtue of a relatively low membership. However, National Congress lays claim to almost double the membership on a per capita basis than all the major Australian political parties combined, and a much higher representation than for the Liberal or Labor parties.
In spite of funding constraints, National Congress is gradually re-establishing itself as a trusted peak organization which coordinates, unifies and represents our peoples’ interests, as exemplified by the
- establishment of the National Health Leadership Forum,
- pre-meeting of invitees to Prime Minister Abbott and Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten’s Kirribilli meeting on constitutional recognition in 2014, and
- development and prosecution of the Redfern Statement.
Click here to download the Congress Fact Sheet.
Our constitution sets out our purpose, rules for meetings and eligibility for membership. Click here to download or read our Constitution.
Meet Our National Board
- Dr Jackie Huggins - Co-Chair
- Rod Little - Co-Chair
- Venessa Curnow
- Norma Ingram
- Masepah Banu
- Gerry Moore
- Katie Kiss
- Dennis Eggington
Jackie Huggins is a Bidjara (central Queensland) and Birri-Gubba Juru (North Queensland) woman from Queensland who has worked in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs for over thirty years. Jackie is a celebrated historian and author who has documented the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout the decades.In 2001, Jackie received the Member of the Order of Australia for services to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Throughout her career spanning over four decades, Jackie has played a leading role in reconciliation, literacy, women’s issues and social justice. Jackie holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Queensland and Flinders University (with Honours), a Diploma of Education and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Queensland. Most recently, Jackie was the Director of Jackie Huggins and Associates, a successful consultancy business, following a long and distinguished record of public service and professional achievement.
Rod Little is from the Amangu and Wajuk peoples of Geraldton and Perth areas of WA. He has been a Director of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples from 2011. Rod has been elected member of the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body since 2008 and Chairperson from 2011 to November 2015 and resigned to take up Congress Co-chair role. He is currently an active member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors; as well as a champion for the ACT Human Rights Office ‘Diversity in the Territory’ campaign, promoting respect and tolerance for multiculturalism and elimination of racism in the ACT. Up to 2015 he has been a participating member with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory group and CRC Ninti One – Remote Education Systems research advisory group.
Venessa Curnow is an Ait Koedal and Sumu woman, tracing her ancestry from Saibai Island in the Torres Strait and Keith in South Australia. She has over 19 years extensive work experience, including 9 years of strategic industry development at the national level and 7 years’ experience in Queensland state-wide development. She started as a practitioner, going on to management, training, mentoring, consultancy, research, lobbying, governance and development. She has been involved mostly in health and aged care industry holding various positions as a registered nurse, clinical nurse and consultant in urban, rural and remote areas. She is member of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dementia Advisory Group (NATSIDAG) and Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency.
Norma Ingram is a Wiradjuri woman born in Cowra NSW. She has over 35 years of industry experience in both training and serving the interests of Aboriginal communities. During this time, she has occupied a number of roles including Senior Aboriginal Coordinator at TAFE managing training programs at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). Norma’s training experience includes corporate training programs for QANTAS as well as delivering training programs for the NSW Premiers Department and Cabinet and the Australian Department of Defence. Norma has served the Aboriginal community with various roles including CEO of both the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and the NSW State Aboriginal Land Council, founding member, Board Member and CEO of Murawina Aboriginal Pre-School and Chairperson of Wyanga Aboriginal Elders Program. She has also sat as a Board member on the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) and NSW Aboriginal Housing Office and on the Indigenous Advisory Group at UTS and the City of Sydney. Norma holds a Master’s Degree in Education from Harvard University, a Diploma in Education Sydney University and a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment; Diploma in Government and Diploma in Community Services and a Diploma in Industrial Relations.
Masepah Banu (Mas) is a Koedal Augadhalaig, Malu Kia, Moa Island man of the Torres Straits and grandmother is Aboriginal from Taepathigii clan of Mapoon Cape York Peninsula. Mas works full time for Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations and graduated with a Diploma in Business Governance. He has been a delegate of NC since its inception. In 2012-2013 he was Chairperson for ACT Torres Strait Islanders Corporation, then 2013-2014 a Member for the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body and his portfolio was Education and Training. Besides working for the government, he loves his Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture where he is involved in numerous dance groups that promotes our unique culture in Australia and overseas to countries of Russia, Italy, Serbia, Qatar, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, New Zealand and the State of Hawaii.
Gerry Moore is from the Yuin nation from the South Coast of NSW and a Director of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. For thirty years Gerry has worked in areas that have serviced the needs of our peoples most recently as CEO of the NSW/ACT Aboriginal Legal Service and as Managing Director of Habitat Personnel, an organisation promoting Aboriginal employment in the wider community. He is a former National ATSIC Commissioner and Regional Councillor and has chaired many organisations including the Nowra Local Aboriginal Land Council and the South Coast Aboriginal Medical Service.
Katie Kiss is a Kaanju Aboriginal woman from Cape York Australia; and a descendant of the Wiri people of the Bowen region of North Queensland through her Grandfather. Katie graduated from Deakin University with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in International Relations. She has been involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs at the local, community, state, national and international level for the past 20 years across a wide range of issues including: community development; social justice; constitutional reform; governance; native title and land management; cultural heritage and environment protection and management; education, training and employment. Katie is a Senior Manager with PwCs Indigenous Consulting (PIC). Katie also served the Australian Human Rights Commission for eight years including as the Director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Team. During that time she spent 15 months at the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples as the Director of Strategic Projects developing the Congress International Indigenous Rights Strategy.
Adjunct Professor Dennis Eggington is a Nyoongar man from the south-west region of Western Australia who has dedicated his life to working with and for his people, to advance the rights of Indigenous peoples in this country.
With a Master of Human Rights Education, he is a committed advocate for social justice and has been the Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (ALSWA) since 1996.
Established in 1973, this organisation is one of the largest community based and controlled legal organisations in Australia, providing legal aid services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including: legal advice, representation, legal education, research, advocacy, prisonersupport, policy development and law reform. Under his leadership, ALSWA was awarded the 2012 National Human Rights Award for ‘Community Organisation’.
Commencing his career as a teacher in WA, NSW and the Northern Territory four decades ago, Dennis has since held numerous Executive positions on community based and controlled organisations, lectured at Curtin University of Technology, and is also credited with establishing the WA AboriginalMedia Association in the late 1980’s.
A former National NAIDOC Person of the Year, Dennis Eggington is widely respected for speaking out on the complex issues facing Indigenous peoplesand works tirelessly to protect and promote the human rights of our First Nations Peoples.