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First Nations policy experts to share knowledge in ANZSOG’s Working with First Nations program

17 April 2024

News and media


Despite good intentions, many public servants need to improve their skills and cultural knowledge to work effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and to be more effective advocates within their organisations for improved partnerships with First Nations communities.

The National Agreement on Closing the Gap (2019-2029) was signed by all Australian jurisdictions and should be guiding government work with First Nations through a new approach, where policy making that impacts the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is undertaken in full and genuine partnership.

ANZSOG’s Working with First Nations: Delivering on the Priority Reforms program began in 2023 in response to demand from our member governments for a program that provided an introduction to First Nations culture, and the new ways of working outlined in the National Agreement.

The program’s importance is reinforced by the recent damning review by the Productivity Commission which found that Australian governments are failing to meet their obligations under the Agreement, because they have failed to fully grasp the nature and scale of change required to share power with First Nations communities.

Working with First Nations is returning in 2024 and will again be presented by Geoff Richardson PSM and Professor Catherine Althaus who bring a mix of academic and practitioner experience to First Nations issues.

It aims to turn rhetoric into reality and give participants practical strategies to change the way they and their agencies work and build shared decision-making partnerships with First Nations. The program adopts the Canadian Two-Eyed Seeing approach to respectfully recognise and embed the strength of Indigenous and non-Indigenous worldviews.

Geoff and Catherine will be joined by a range of guest presenters who bring their knowledge and lived experience to the program.

Presenters include Gordon de Brouwer, Australian Public Service Commissioner, Jody Broun, CEO of the National Indigenous Australians Agency, as well as Julie-Ann Guivarra, Deputy CEO of NIAA and Jess Hartman Acting NIAA Group Manager.

The First Nations community sector will be represented by a range of speakers, including Catherine Liddle, CEO of SNAICC National Voice for our Children and Donnella Mills, Chair National Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Organisations, both of whom were speakers at ANZSOG’s 2023 First Nations Conference First Peoples to All Peoples

The conference was themed around the Four Priority Reforms of the National Agreement – formal partnerships and shared decision-making, building the First Nations community-controlled sector, transforming government organisations, shared data and access to information.

Ms Liddle told the conference that the Priority Reforms were about acknowledging First Nations had solutions to policy issues, and needed to have barriers removed, so they could make them heard.

“Current government systems are racist because they were put on top of us in order to steal our resources. The system is not broken, it was designed to do this, that’s why we need structural change,” she said.

Ms Mills said she was hopeful about the Agreement because it had been driven by First Nations people through the Coalition of Peaks.

“We have engaged deeply with our membership and our people to ensure that those structural reforms and the four priority reforms really speak to what community wants,” she said.

“If you are a public servant and the National Agreement isn’t on your desk. If you can’t rattle off these key priority reforms, if your department does not have resources for it – you need to lean in, and quickly. We are now in a new way of operating and we expect you to meet the obligation under the National Agreement.”

“We need you to co-design. That is a challenging concept for government, but it is on you to find a way to make it work.”

Videos of Ms Liddle and Ms Mills speaking at the conference can be found here.

Other confirmed speakers include:

  • Haylene Grogan, Qld Chief Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Officer and Deputy Director-General
  • Jacob Prehn, Associate Dean Indigenous, College of Arts & Law, University of Tasmania
  • Maggie Walter, Professor of Sociology and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Aboriginal Research and Leadership, University of Tasmania

Working with First Nations will consist of six online sessions (plus an orientation session) beginning on 4 June. The program is designed for public servants from mid-levels to senior executives from policy, program delivery, procurement and other areas who want to improve their understanding of First Nations issues.

The program will provide an understanding of the perspectives and cultures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and how they can contribute to contemporary society, as well as build capability to engage effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, organisations, and communities, and building genuine partnerships with shared decision-making.

Registrations for Working with First Nations are now open and more information is available on the Working with First Nations webpage. This includes a free video ‘Starting your journey to working with First Nations’ which sees Geoff and Catherine outline the themes and approach of the program.