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Secrets of successful Indigenous partnerships: ANZSOG First Peoples public administration conference speakers announced

3 February 2021

News and media


ANZSOG’s upcoming Proud Partnerships in Place: 2021 ANZSOG First Peoples Public Administration virtual conference will focus on sharing stories of success and building on the strengths of communities to generate positive change.

The conference will bring together public servants academics and Indigenous community leaders from Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand together to share ideas and hear from presenters including Professor Tom Calma AO and New Zealand’s first Māori Supreme Court Judge Justice Sir Joe Williams.

The four-day conference will be held over four weeks – with one 3-hour event per week, commencing in February 2021. The four events will be themed as Setting the Scene, Global Challenges, Structuring Change and Turning Trends. For more information about the conference or to register, visit the conference webpage.

Sharon Nelson-Kelly, ANZSOG’s Senior Adviser First Peoples Program and Strategy, said there could be no real progress in Indigenous affairs until governments listened to the voices of First Peoples and started to respect and include Indigenous knowledge and culture in their work.

“Attendees will hear how communities can and do use their strengths and capacities to make a difference, when governments are willing to listen and share power in genuine partnerships,” she said,

“Shifting to a virtual conference will mean we can connect a wider audience to The emerging share ideas and celebrate successes. We will be providing attendees with a number of “face-to-face” conference experiences without the need to leave home, the office or travel inter-state.”

REGISTER NOW: Proud Partnerships in Place: 2021 ANZSOG First Peoples Public Administration virtual conference

The conference will be hosted by ABC TV political journalist Dan Conifer, an Ngemba Muruwari man, who said that the conference would be an opportunity for anyone who worked with First Peoples or their organisations to learn about best-practice collaboration, to improve policy outcomes and service delivery for first peoples, and to provide better value for money for taxpayers.

“Governments need to begin partnerships by listening, then working with communities rather than not unilaterally doing things to or for communities,” he said.

“More generally, indigenous affairs should be a space where partisan politics and political point-scoring take a backward seat, and where evidence and expert advice are elevated — including evidence and advice from within communities that are being served.

Moving beyond rhetoric to real partnerships

New Zealand supreme court Judge Justice Sir Joe Williams, former head of the Waitangi Tribunal and former Chief Judge of the Māori Land Court, will present as part of the Structuring Change session.

He said that the rhetoric of partnerships had been used by governments in New Zealand for 25 years, but they were only now starting to translate that into reality.

“In the past the word has been clothing for the same old, same old – which is a vertical relationship between the State or the Crown and the Iwis,” he said

“These ‘partnerships’ which were often contract for delivery of social services, have often failed because they have not been partnerships, the tribes are simply contract agents of the state. They are delivering services within the state’s parameters, the state’s KPIs and the State’s scrutiny and assessment.”

“We are only just starting the process of exploring what partnership really does mean, in the sense of the sharing of power and the leveraging of tribal advantage, to address or resolve issues that both the government and Iwis believe need solving.”

He said that New Zealand’s highly centralised government and colonial history had been, and to a lesser extent still were, barriers to real sharing of power.

“The concept of tribal power has always been seen as a threat to settler power, and we still see the residue of that today, strong tribal polities are seen as undermining, and that dynamic is still operating underneath a lot of what goes on.”

REGISTER NOW: Proud Partnerships in Place: 2021 ANZSOG First Peoples Public Administration virtual conference

He said the evolving power of the tribes post reconstruction and Waitangi Treaty settlement process meant that they could force government to move beyond vertical relationships.

“We have seen tribes develop, and at local levels become nodes of economic and political power. They are not supplicants to the state to the same extent they were 20 years ago, when the rhetoric of partnerships was beginning. Economic power is crucial because it gives them the power to walk away.”

“The increased Māori participation in government at a bureaucratic level has made it more prone to devolve power through partnerships, and less likely to cling to the vertical model on that side of the conversation.

He said that governments would never be able to solve deep-seated, multi-generational problems without the help of communities.

“Governments don’t have the reach, even if they have the will. But the tribes do – even if they don’t have the resources and expertise they do have the reach and the intimate knowledge which are essential and which is why real partnerships are the only way to solve these issues.

“The problem we confront at community-based sovereignty is that the muscles have atrophied because they have been purposely starved by governments, but as the state is recognising that it can’t solve the problems it has created, those muscles are starting to get some exercise again.

“We still don’t have an area where we are doing things properly yet, but we are starting to build real partnerships which move supplicant and benefactor, and backfill that rhetoric with substantive content.”

Professor Tom Calma AO, co-leader of the advisory group on an Indigenous voice, which recently presented an interim report to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, will speak at the conference on ‘Remaining Accountable’.

“Indigenous peoples in Australia have, since the intrusion of colonisation, called on governments to hear us, to do things with us, not for us or to us. The Voice to Parliament models currently under consideration are mechanisms to achieve this in meaningful ways,” Professor Calma said.

Respecting communities by building relationships

Cheryl Leavy, Executive Director Partnerships at the Queensland Department of Environment and Science, will be a presenter at the conference in the Global Challenges stream.

She said that successful partnerships had been developed in Queensland, and that these partnerships were the only way for governments to work with First Nations Peoples.

“As public servants, we have an obligation to serve all publics, and to protect the rights of those we serve. Queensland recently introduced a Human Rights Act, joining the ACT and Victoria, all of which expressly address the cultural rights of First Nations people,” she said.

“In Queensland, those rights are the right to enjoy, maintain, control, protect and develop our identity and cultural heritage, language, kinship ties, to maintain and build on our relationship with country and to protect it. Government cannot do that without working in partnership with First Nations peoples.

“You need to understand what motivates First Nations Peoples. Their communities have so many complex and intractable challenges and the drive to work on those challenges is extraordinarily strong. The preference for working in partnerships is part of that culture,” she said.

She said Proud Partnerships were built over time, on shared values, principles of engagement, and shared outcomes and benefits, and by focusing on the importance of the long-term relationship above all else.

“They celebrate the rights of First Nations Peoples – working from our strengths and they value partnership approaches, rather than focusing on the short-term costs and challenges,” she said.

“They start at the very inception of an idea, right through implementation or service delivery, to evaluation of outcomes and ensuring that shared benefits were delivered.

“When the relationship is strong we can work through the administrative challenges or other issues easily.

She said that working in partnerships with First Nations peoples was perhaps the most important skill a contemporary public servant could develop.

“All of the work of government is with people, not for people. So it is a skill set that will improve all of your partnerships, all of the relationships that are necessary to achieving real and sustainable impact.”

How to register

Paulleen Markwort, Director, Aboriginal Strategy and Oversight at Department of Health & Human Services, Victoria, attended the previous ANZSOG First Peoples Conference ‘Reimagining Government’ in 2019 and said that the conference had ‘provided her with the Aboriginal worldviews’ she could overlay in her work supporting the advancement of Indigenous self-determination.

She said she believed in the importance of building partnerships because Aboriginal people know what is best for their communities.

“Developing and maintaining collaborative partnerships with Aboriginal sector leaders and their communities is critical to understanding how to activate Aboriginal agency and control in the design, delivery and evaluation of service and programs.”

This will be the third ANZSOG First Peoples conference, delivered with funding and support from the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), and is a virtual version of the conference originally planned for Brisbane in March 2020. It will build on the success of our two previous conferences, Reimagining Public Administration: First Peoples, governance and new paradigms in 2019, and Indigenous Public Affairs and Administration: Can’t we do better? in 2017.

For more information about the conference or to register, visit the conference webpage.

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