In 1972 the Whitlam government established an advisory body, the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NACC), which was the first national body elected by Aboriginal people. The NACC was short-lived and replaced by the Fraser government in 1977, which established the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC). The NAC was also short-lived and replaced by the Hawke government in 1990, which established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). ATSIC lasted a little longer but was disbanded in 2005 by the Howard government. The abolition of ATSIC removed advocacy at the Commonwealth level from an Aboriginal point of view and was a serious blow to service delivery in our communities.
Start-stop funding plagues our organizations. Because of this history of successive governments establishing and disbanding our national representative bodies, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recommended that any new body be established as a company so that governments could not easily disband it. It was also recommended that an endowment fund be established to fund the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (National Congress) in order to give it independence from governments.
The design of the National Congress was also influenced by criticisms of ATSIC. Because around 80 per cent of the ATSIC councilors were men, the constitution of the National Congress requires gender equality in all elected positions. And because of controversies about its last chair and its financial management, an Ethics Council was established to watch over all aspects of National Congress’ operations and ensure that its actions were consistent with its values and mission. In addition, police checks are required for all elected officers of National Congress.
In 2009, the Rudd government agreed to establish National Congress as a company but did not agree to the recommended funding model and kept National Congress on a very tight if adequate funding leash whereby it approved all expenditure.
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples is the result of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community meetings throughout the country, peak body talks, a national forum and written submissions. Very importantly, we wanted a credible body independent from government and properly resourced to “give advice, advocate, monitor and evaluate government performance on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, but not to deliver services or programs as ATSIC did.