Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma unveiled his new plans for the body, which will replace the defunct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.
The body, which is currently being considered by the federal government, would be made up of an eight member national executive, a 128-seat national congress and an ethics council to ensure its members are fit and proper persons.
Independence ‘the key’
The former head of ATSIC Geoff Clark says the body’s independence from government should be its key priority.
“One of the first tasks of this body would be to secure what is the long term relationship and if that were the case then it may have some hope, the fact that it would have to I would have thought go straight to the issue of treaty and to work out just to how we can freely you know resource this organisation free of government influence,” Mr Clark told SBS.
The proposal has been welcomed by Aboriginal activists, who say they have suffered from the absence of national representation since the abolishment of ATSIC.
“There hasn’t been a national voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people for some years,” Chief executive of Reconciliation Australia Paul O’Callaghan told SBS.
“The model that’s been proposed now is one that would ensure representation from across a wide range of Indigenous organisations and with individuals through a pretty rigorous selection process, with an ethics council and of course with 50-50 male and female representation at every level of the organisation,” he added.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says the government will consider Mr Calma’s proposal as quickly as possible.
However she isn’t backing away from the government’s earlier decision to ensure the body only has advisory powers.
But South Australia’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement Klynton Wanganeen says such powers will not suffice.
“Having advisory powers is not good enough, because with advice you can either take it or leave it,” Mr Wanganeen said.
“We’d want to really know what sort of teeth it’s got beyond advisory powers and if the government is only going to stick to the issue about advisory powers then I think there needs to be a long hard look on the type of activities we’d want the body to do.”
Mr Wanganeen says providing Indigenous people with a platform where they can engage is fundamental in the reconciliation process.
He agrees that it is essential the new body remains independent of government, if it is to survive.
“It won’t be dependent on the longer term on governments, and hopefully it’ll have a longer life than other similar bodies.
“I think the average life of a national body for representing indigenous people has a life span of 5-6 years. So I would like to see something that is actually sustainable beyond government funding and be able to do the work that Aboriginal people want it to do”.
‘Lack of consultation’
But there are some criticisms of the proposal. One Aboriginal leader says Mr Calma did not consult widely before making his recommendations.
“They’ve not been able to make it to those major metropolitan areas to have their input, and I think a lot of people have missed out on trying to put a model together and that’s a major injustice, quite honestly,” co-founder of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra Michael Anderson said.
But Mr Wanganeen says criticism of the proposal should be constructive, if any momentum is to be gained on establishing the body.
“People really need to look at the report and its recommendations and if they feel strongly about issues, raise them, and put them into public arena for a bit of discussion, and we should discuss the issues, not the people”.