This is a repost of an open letter to the new Indigenous Advisory Council written by Don MacAskill, Chief Executive Officer of the Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Co-Operative.

It was originally posted at the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) website here.

Reasonable questions regarding the Terms of Reference

To the members of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, firstly, I thank you for your service and commitment to Aboriginal affairs and issues facing our communities today.

Like many Indigenous people, I was encouraged and hopeful after the announcement of an Indigenous Advisory Council, dedicated to representing the needs and concerns of Aboriginal people across the country. I hope that the Council’s opportunity to work closely with Prime Minister Abbott as he strives to improve the health and welfare of Aboriginal people is maximised, and that you will be courageous in your efforts to ensure he truly is the ‘Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs’.

While I believe this has the potential to be a worthwhile initiative, I do have a few concerns regarding the transparency of the Council and what the reporting obligations will be to the community. I have listed a few of these concerns below, and look forward to receiving your thoughts on the following.

After some basic research, I have been unable to locate any information detailing the policies and frameworks around the Council. I, and many others in the community, are curious as to how members were elected, and what selection process was undertaken?

Will the frameworks around the Council, for example, code of conduct, reporting responsibilities, minutes of meetings, key performance indicators of both individual and whole of council performance, be made publicly available?

Another area I felt was unclear was relating to the scope of the Council, and the specific impacts it has on policy creation, the assessment of existing policies relating to the Indigenous community, or whether it is simply there to provide advice when requested by the Prime Minister?

Has a strategic plan, complete with objectives and evaluation models, been developed and will this be available for the public?

What reports will be made available to the public? As I noted with some concern, stated within the Terms of Reference, ‘the deliberation of the Council will be confidential, but the Council may choose to issue a statement after its meetings.’

There appears to be a worrying lack of transparency, and I have concerns this may undermine the meaningful changes the Council has the opportunity to effect.

I believe passionately in the creation of relevant and workable policies that can bring real change into our communities, policies that have the ability to create better health, education and social outcomes for our people.

I am keenly aware of the many and far-reaching issues surrounding Aboriginal Affairs, as Chief Executive Officer of Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Co-Operative, I am faced with these challenges daily.

I have been following with some interest, the debate which has been raging within mainstream media regarding the decision making process of not only the Council, but also of Government as a whole.

Pragmatism vs ideology, has dominated the conversation and I believe this is a conversation all Australians need to have.

Our social justice values and the policies and laws that govern wider Australia, are based on several ideologies, mateship, a fair go for all, and taking care of the less fortunate. This is what forms the basis, in my opinion, of what makes us Australian.

The Council itself has been founded on the bipartisan ideology of ‘Closing the Gap’ and all the critical work that needs to be done to achieve this now and into the future.

In order to achieve real outcomes for the Aboriginal community, I believe Ideology should form the basis of every policy developed by those elected to govern, for those they represent. Should it not be the structure, implementation and evaluation of these policies that is pragmatic? Pragmatic solutions solidly rooted in the fundamental ideals we, as a country, support and embody?

I for one do not agree that the decision-making process must be simply ideological, or pragmatic, surely the integration of these concepts has not been eroded from our public consciousness so completely that they are now mutually exclusive.

I do not want to imagine a country where decisions that impact on our most vulnerable and disenfranchised groups are made purely on economic or political reasons, nor do I want to see policy created based on ideology that does not have its roots in best practice or better outcomes for the community.

I hope through the creation of this Council, you can find a way to engage the broader Aboriginal community and marry these two fundamental concepts in a way that achieves socially just, financially responsible and transparent outcomes for the community.

I look forward to seeing the outcomes you achieve through this Council, on the ground in my community.

Kind regards,

Don MacAskill,

Chief Executive Officer,

Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Co-Operative

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