In the Media – National Indigenous Times

Congress membership soars as delegate election looms

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Membership to the Congress of Australia’s First Peoples has increased by more than 700 members in the last six months, a meeting of Congress delegates was told in Adelaide.

The meeting, opened by Kaurna Elder and National Congress member, Aunty Josie Agius, received an update on initiatives by the Congress as well as an address by Co-Chair, Jody Broun.

The growth in membership to the Congress was welcome news with elections to be held soon by the organisation.

Brian Butler and Tammy Solonec hosted the delegates meeting as Directors of Chamber 3 (for the Individual) for the Congress.

“Congress membership has grown by 719 individual members in the last 6 months, that’s a growth rate of 16 per cent to nearly 5200 members,” Directors Brian Butler and Tammy Solonec told the meeting.

A congregation of 30 delegates worked through a range of issues including policy direction and the UN Declaration, promotion and representation of Congress and delegate roles and responsibilities.

The purpose of the meeting was to provide an update on the progress and achievements of the National Congress over the past six months, a follow on from the conference held in Alice Springs last September.

“Congress is here to be a national voice, a leader, and an advocate for our people, so our Congress leaders get out and talk to our communities and member organisations as much as possible,” Directors Butler and Solonec told the meeting.

Just some of the language groups visited by National Congress in the last six months have included Tangentyere Council in Alice Springs, Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation, Forwaard Aboriginal Corporation in Darwin, North Queensland Land Council, Communities of Palm Island, Yarrabah, Wadeye, KARI Aboriginal Resources Inc in Liverpool in South West Sydney, Townsville correctional facilities, FNQ and the Torres Strait, Kai Kai on Thursday Island and on Survival Day 2013, National Congress was represented and gathered new members at events in Adelaide, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Membership drives at Survival Day events, the All Stars Festival in Brisbane, the Canberra Knockout Carnival, and Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Supporter Accords have been signed with the Chain Reaction Foundation and the Diversity Council Australia and a short intensive campaign trial to recruit members among western Sydney organisations and communities is also underway.

Congress continues to meet with government ministers and senior public servants in a bid to influence policy directions and in profiling National Congress as a leader of Australia’s Indigenous people.

In the last six months National Congress has focussed strongly on completing a joint submission with the National Health Leadership Forum to the Federal Government on the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan (NATSIHP).

“We have been engaged in extensive consultation with communities in Darwin, Alice Springs, Maningrida, Canberra, Launceston, Melbourne, Shepparton, Port Augusta, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, Thursday Island, Broome, Perth and Dubbo” Butler and Solonec told the meeting. “We also released a toolkit to support local communities to conduct their own consultations to feed in ideas and views about the NATSIHP.”

National Congress ran a telephone survey of members to gather detailed data to support their submission on NATSIHP and received a very good response from members contacted.

The tender was won by National Congress through the Federal Government to run roundtables to support the NATSIHP’s development.

Some of the other Health events National Congress participated in or addressed included: The Indigenous Health Alliance Leadership and Governance workshop for women, held in Wagga Wagga, the NATSIHWA (National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association) conference in Melbourne, Launch of the Mental Health Commission report card in Sydney, Indigenous Allied Health Australia conference in Brisbane (keynote address), Health Partnership meeting (Thursday Island).

The Education Working Group has continued to meet regularly and progress National Congress’s education policy agenda with the draft Education Policy released for a one month consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. This has now been released via the Congress website for broader comment.

There is work underway on an accountability framework for determining the success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education programs in light of the latest Gonski reforms with Board Director Rod Little spending a week working with schools in the Northern Territory on the Next Steps Plan, a program facilitated by Chris Sarra’s Stronger Smarter Institute which engages schools to develop strategies for embracing high expectations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through supporting programs for community and parent engagement, improving literacy and numeracy and student well-being.

National Congress released its National Justice Policy in February 2013. The policy advocates five evidence based recommendations that respond to the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in contact with the justice system.

The next phase will see National Congress moving into advocacy and campaigning to implement their ideas.

“Congress has written to Senator Penny Wright, Chair of the Senate’s Legal References Committee, seeking a formal Senate inquiry into the feasibility and implementation of Justice Reinvestment, which is a key comment of the proposed justice policy” the Directors said “this is being supported by NATSILS, other key member organisations and other leading advocacy organisations.”

A submission has been made to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on the Value of Justice Reinvestment.

Congress was represented by Director Brian Butler at a meeting organised by the Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) in Melbourne last November to discuss a National Strategy for the Protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Co-Chair Jody Broun met with Helen Milroy, one of the commissioners for the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, to discuss engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with the Commission. Helen Milroy is a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

National Congress elections are currently underway and the election timetable can be found on their website at

Elections have been widely publicised and information and promotions have gone out. Planning for the elections process has been finalised in partnership with the Returning Officer and Ethics Council with e-News about the elections going out to all Members with advertisement being published in all Indigenous media.

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