1) The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was established in April 2010
After many years of discussions and lobbying by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Federal Government committed to funding a new national representative body.
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was established by an independent and Indigenous Steering Committee to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a voice in national affairs and active involvement in decisions that affect them.
The Steering Committee, chaired by Dr Tom Calma and Jackie Huggins, conducted extensive nationwide consultations between July 2008 and August 2009.
The Committee outlined a proposal for a new representative model in the report Our Future in Our Hands and appointed the first board to establish the organisation.
On 19 April 2010 the Congress was officially incorporated as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee.
The first election of the Congress Co-Chairs (a male and female chair who lead the organisation) is taking place between 25 February 2011 and 25 March 2011. Ten candidates (four women and six men) are standing for election.
The first annual forum of members, known as the National Congress meeting, will take place in Sydney from 7-9 June 2011.
For more information on the elections and the first annual forum visit: www.nationalcongress.com.au
2) The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples will represent its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members
The Congress maintains that its success and achievements will be shaped by its members. Membership is currently free and open to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals over 18, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.
As an organisation, the Congress is made up of three sections: the National Board and staff; the Ethics Council; and the 120 person annual National Congress meeting.
The National Congress meeting will make decisions on policies and issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and advise the National Board on the future direction and priorities for the Congress. The meeting will be made up of the following three chambers, each consisting of up to 40 delegates:
Chamber 1: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and peak bodies, operating at a Regional, State/Territory or National level.
Chamber 2: All other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations such as native title bodies and land councils.
Chamber 3: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 18 years and over. s will take
One of the strengths of the Congress is that it is committed to gender balance across the whole organisation with equal male and female representation. Equal numbers of men and women is mandated in its constitution for the National Board and the 120 representatives at the National Congress meeting. The Congress is also committed to ensure participation from youth and urban, regional and remote communities.
3) The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples will advocate for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s rights
The Congress and National Congress meetings will be a collective voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at a national level and play an important role in advocating for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s rights.
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples will also work towards achieving the Closing the Gap targets through securing a positive economic, social, cultural and environmental future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and building new and more effective relationships with government, industry and other communities.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples hold a unique place in our history and as first nations people have a fundamental contribution to make to ongoing national development and identity. A national body is a prerequisite to enabling this contribution through partnerships with government, the private sector and the Australian community.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples also have profound understanding of the consequences of racism and marginalisation and have essential insights and knowledge required to address the disadvantage which has resulted. The nation needs a body able to marshal this knowledge and contribute it to national policy and strategy. (Our Future in Our Hands Report)
4) The Congress is independent of government
Established as a company, the Congress is led by its members.
Members can change the constitution and elect representatives without the approval of government or the need to change legislation in parliament.
The Congress operates separate from federal and state governments of the day and any individual or party political agendas. In fact it is clearly tasked to lobby and influence their policies in the best interests of the Congress and its members.
The National Congress meeting is the forum that will set policy and priorities for the Congress. Letting members have a say and asking their opinions on important issues, is one of the most critical opportunities the Congress is working on as it sets up the organisation.
Funding from the Federal Government of $29.2 million has been provided to establish the organisation. It is hoped as a new representative body, the Congress can become self-sustaining over time , drawing on corporate and philanthropic support.
While being independent from government, it is envisaged the Congress will have an effective and mutually beneficial relationship with both government and the private sector.
5) The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples is consistent with Australia’s obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The development of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was guided by Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This Article states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters that affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own Indigenous decision-making institutions.