Though it is a work in progress, developed on a shoe-string, the unity of our peak organizations as demonstrated by the Redfern Statement is powerful and is beginning to gain the respect of the Commonwealth government. As a result, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, has recently offered National Congress contracts on a fee-for-service basis.

National Congress has been allocated $150,000 to run five workshops across the country on the themes elaborated in the Redfern Statement. This funding is nowhere near the actual cost of running these workshops and so our organizations are having to dig into their own funds and cut corners in order to deliver the contractual outcomes. No funds have been provided to cover administrative or overhead costs.

In addition, yesterday, National Congress signed a contract with the Commonwealth for $2.4m for fee for service activities in the coming two years that will allow some degree of consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout the country. It is important to recognize that while welcome, these funds are grossly inadequate to realize the ambitions and mission of a national representative body and will only allow us to do the things that the Commonwealth wishes. There are very tight controls and no money to allow, for example, the hiring of a media officer or administrative support, or meetings of the board, or policy development, or membership recruitment and engagement – all of which are fundamental activities of a national representative body, and which National Congress currently does on “the smell of an oily rag” and due to contributions by volunteers.

It is important to stress that National Congress receives no funding to cover operational costs, and has not done so since 2013. To cope with this situation and survive, some essential changes were recently made to its constitution in order to radically cut costs. Among these were that the National Congress board will now only meet four times each year. It should also be noted that the Co-chairs have taken a 45 percent pay cut; the CEO donated his services free of charge for six months; remuneration for directors has been slashed and most of them donate their stipends to National Congress.