NIT: Criticism already for new Indigenous rep body

By Madelaine Sealey

ISSUE 191, November 26, 2009: The National Congress Of Australia’s First People (NCAFP), the new Indigenous representative body announced on Sunday, has been labelled a “joke”, by the former Director of the Central Land Council.

The body, established through the guidance of an Independent Steering Committee headed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, is expected to be operative by 2011 and will receive $29 million over the next four years from the federal government.

Its establishment comes some five years after the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) – axed by the former Howard government – and will be the first national Indigenous body in Australian history whose establishment has been guided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, providing a “voice” for Indigenous Australians, Mr Calma said last week.

However, the former director of the Alice Springs based Central Land Council (CLC), Tracker Tilmouth, told the ABC on Monday that Indigenous people already have enough organisations, labelling the body unnecessary and a waste of time.

“We’re the most over-governed people in Australia,” Mr Tilmouth told the ABC. “We have more councils, more organisations than any other part of the community. We don’t need another organisation that’s got a big name and no blankets.

“Let’s deal with the current structures we’ve got. We’ve got some very effective land councils. Let’s make sure those land councils are resourced properly and aren’t cut off by the funding which is the current process under the [Macklin regime].”

But Mr Calma told NIT on Tuesday that the NCAFP will not take over the responsibility of any existing Indigenous bodies and that current organisations such as the CLC would still be able to operate as they currently do and utilising the new body would be “free choice”.

“The [NCAFP] will facilitate all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country and give them the opportunity to come together to express a voice to government,” Mr Calma told NIT.

“There are other land councils and organisations who may not enjoy the same authority as the [CLC] and I think those bodies are the ones who may want to participate. [Indigenous Australians] need to have a national body that can actively lobby on their behalf to the federal government.”

The formation of the NCAFP came after calls from Indigenous Australians around the nation. The structure was guided and informed by consultations, workshops and focus groups involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Mr Calma said.

Despite the federal government providing initial funding to help establish the body, Mr Calma said that it is expected it would be self-sufficient in the next ten years, with the assistance of corporate sponsorships and memberships providing the funding needed to operate independently long term.

“This is different [and] I think that once this body is formed the views of individuals will become less relevant around the country in the way of forming positive outcomes for [Indigenous Australians],” Mr Calma said. “Let’s not try and undermine what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a peoples want, versus what individuals views are.”

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