Genuine partnerships lead to better policy for First Peoples

Image of ANZSOG's Lil Anderson
  • Published Date: 22 June 2022

Public services must change their mindsets and structures to develop genuine partnerships and better policy for First Peoples, says ANZSOG Leadership and Teaching Fellow Lil Anderson.

Ms Anderson, who is also Chief Executive of Aotearoa New Zealand’s, Te Arawhiti/Office for Māori Crown Relations, will lead the Leading with cultural intelligence - building stronger partnerships with First Peoples masterclass as part of ANZSOG’s Future public sector leaders’ series.

The masterclass, to be held on 30 June and repeated later in 2022, will allow participants to understand the partnerships that are emerging in Aotearoa New Zealand, and how similar partnerships could be built in Australia, even outside a Treaty framework.

Ms Anderson said that for too long, policy responses had been based on data instead of deep engagement with communities, and it was clear that this approach had not worked. Engagement had too often come too late in the policy process, when solutions had already been created based on data.

“Governments and public servants are there to serve the public and a large number of the public are not doing so well. We are seeing the same statistics over and over again, and we need to ask the question of how do we work with those communities,” she said.

“How do we engage with First Peoples? Do we just look at the data, or do we go out into communities and get to know them, learn about them and their hardships and triumphs.

“For partnerships to work, you need to know the other side - what their hopes and dreams are, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. You need to build trust and respect and ways to communicate, so you can work together to solve problems.”

Making First Peoples the first priority

Ms Anderson said that this level of engagement required changes within organisations and at public service system levels, as well as changes in mindset from individual public servants. She said that public sector agencies, and their leaders, needed to make it clear that working with First Peoples and building partnerships was a priority.

She said that with the election of a new federal government, the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, which has been developed in genuine partnership between Australian governments and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations (the Coalition of Peaks), presented a chance to change the way that Indigenous policy was done in Australia.

“The first thing is to believe it is important, and say it is important – tell your staff that it matters. You also need a really capable group of people who are going to ‘feel the fear’ and do it anyway. Otherwise we’ll be stuck in that attitude of sitting around and bemoaning statistics, and the opportunity we have will be lost,” she said.

“In New Zealand it has sometimes been seen as the role of the ‘Indigenous agency’ and not the rest of government. We need to accept that everyone has a responsibility to work well with First Peoples.”

“People need to make First Peoples issues as important - the most important project they are doing, the most important policy paper, and they need to communicate that to their staff.

“We also need to acknowledge that the journey is quite scary for some people, and us First Peoples in government need to support our colleagues on this journey,

“I often hear: ‘I just don’t want to get it wrong, so I didn’t do anything’. We need to remove that fear factor.”

Creating structures to share power and accountability

Many of Aotearoa New Zealand’s partnerships are founded on the Treaty of Waitangi, which was signed in 1840, and recognised the respective roles of the Crown and Māori and the concept of ‘rangatiratanga’, the ability of iwi to make decisions about the things that matter most to them and to determine their own destiny.

“In NZ the Treaty of Waitangi has been the foundation of our relationship between government and public services, there’s no hiding from it. But is does not necessarily have to be done the same way in Australia. The National Agreement on Closing the Gap could not be clearer, and it has been endorsed by politicians and Indigenous leaders at the highest levels,” Ms Anderson said.

Ms Anderson said that Aotearoa New Zealand was beginning to develop structures that supported genuine sharing of power with First Peoples and created new mechanisms for accountability, and these could be replicated in Australia.

“For example there is a Family and Sexual Violence joint venture, set up between public servants, iwi and other organisations. There are others around housing and building new housing stock.

Other partnerships focus on environmental management, such as the partnership that manages the ongoing health and wellbeing of the Whanganui River, where both the Crown and iwi are represented and involved in making decisions.

Ms Anderson said that public services needed to innovate and look at range of models for partnerships.

“One of the things in Aotearoa New Zealand is that we have a lot of different approaches for different problems and communities - most are working but some are not. Public services need to accept a failure rate that maybe they would not normally be comfortable with because we need to work out the three or four models that will work for different circumstances but that is going to take time.”


ANZSOG’s 2022 Future public sector leaders series began in May, and is a series of 12 online masterclasses which offer hard-working and passionate emerging public sector leaders the chance to reflect and think more deeply about the challenges that they are facing and leave with new ideas to apply in their work. Presenters are drawn from academia, the public and private sectors and offer a chance to explore complex ideas with relevance to public sector practice.

For more information on the Future public sector leaders 2022 series including pricing click here.