​​​​Transcript of Wingara Aboriginal Health Series: Seminar 2

Transforming the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the NSW Government

Meggan Grose, Centre for Aboriginal Health: Thank you all for coming and welcome to the second Wingara Aboriginal Health Seminar. Before we commence I'd like to invite Uncle Chicka Madden to give a Welcome to Country. Thanks Uncle Chicka. Thank you.

Uncle Charles Madden, Eora Elder: Yes good afternoon folks. My name is Charles Madden but known around the inner city of Sydney as Chicka. Now that's a nickname that I got many many years ago going to Redfern Public School which is now NCIE, the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence. Folks, I'm from Gadigal land, Aboriginal land; that's just across the bay. Today I acknowledge that we're on the land of the Cameraygul people. The Cameraygul and Gadigal are two of twenty nine clans that make up the Eora nation. The Eora nation is bordered by three distinctive landmarks. We have the Hawksbury River to the north, the Nepean to the west and the Georges River to the south. Those three rivers form the boundaries of the Eora nation. Folks, for many many years I've lived and worked around the city of Sydney. I've been involved with many different Aboriginal organisations over the years. I've been a director with the Aboriginal Medical Service at Redfern for over 40 years, also a director with the Redfern Aboriginal Housing Company, Aboriginal Hostels Australia and the Metropolitan local Aboriginal Land Council where I am still very active member. How about I mention it folks, also a life member of the Redfern All Blacks Rugby League Football Club. For many many years I've lived and worked around the city of Sydney. I'd like to take this opportunity this afternoon to extend a warm and sincere welcome to all of my Aboriginal brothers and sisters, non Aboriginal brothers and sisters. If we have, any brothers and sisters from the Torres Strait or further afar across the seas welcome; welcome to the land of the Eora. Folks, for many many years I've lived and worked around the city of Sydney. I've travelled, met a lot of people but it's always a pleasure to come back to Eora. First, if you've travelled across this great city of ours today, the state or this great country or from afar, welcome. Welcome to the land of the Camaraygul. I hope you have trouble-free trip home. Once again welcome, welcome, welcome. Enjoy the day folks. Thank you.

Meggan Grose: Thanks for that welcome to country Uncle Chika we really appreciate you and your time coming over here today on this side of the bridge. I too would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land that we're meeting on the Gameraygul people of the Eora nation and I'd like to acknowledge my traditional custodians of the land and any Aboriginal people who are here today. So good afternoon. Thanks for coming.

The Wingara Seminar Series aims to bring highly specialised and talented Aboriginal people in for lunchtime sessions to share their skills with us. The aim is for you to go back and reflect on your own work practices around Aboriginal health, see what you may be able to do to increase your skills and implement some of the tried and tested ways of working. The goal we are reaching for is real and measurable improvement in Aboriginal health in New South Wales.

So here on Camaraygul country today I have the privilege of introducing today's keynote speaker, Jason Ardler. He's the head of Aboriginal Affairs, leading whole-of-government and intergovernmental Aboriginal Affairs strategy and program development. Jason also has the responsibility for leading the implementation of the New South Wales Government community's plan for OCHRE. I hope I said that right. Please check it out if you haven't already and go and have a look at all their other things on their website - it's really really deadly actually. So Jason will speak about the approaches taken, challenges faced and outcomes achieved by Aboriginal Affairs in building momentum to change the way business is done in Aboriginal communities, especially appropriate ways to co-design projects. So please everyone, welcome Mister Jason Ardler.


Jason Ardler, Head of Aboriginal Affairs: Thanks Meggan. Can everybody se me okay? Oh my god I wasn't expecting that's a lot [of people in the audience]. Thank you for that introduction.

As Meggan said my name is Jason Ardler. I'm a Yuin man from the south coast of New South Wales. Yuin country stretches from the Shoalhaven river at Bomaderry in the north down to the Victorian border and across to this side, oh the eastern side of the Monaro. That's Yuin country. I hail from a beautiful little place called Ulladulla where most of my family's still live. And so of course by acknowledging that we are on Cameraygul land and thanking Uncle Chika that welcome to country.

I was kind of chuckling to myself as Meggan started her introduction of me. I always cringe when people start reading out that bio and I always think back to a conversation that I had with my father who's 83 or 84 this year. And I was going through a bit of a phase where I was thinking about career moves and what I wanted to do with the next little bit of the journey. And um I was talking to dad about the possibility of moving back to Ulladulla an thinking well if I did that what on earth would I do when he said 'yeah son so tell me a little bit about what you do' and kind of try to explain what you're doing these roles you know, lots of emails, lots of meetings, lots of this, lots of that, briefing notes etc. And he said 'Ah son you'll be right there's plenty of admin work down here'.

[Audience laughs]

Ah thank you Dad. Nothing like family to kind of keep you grounded, keep you rooted. Remind you where you come from. So yeah. So as Meggan said I've been asked to come and talk to you a little bit about the work that Aboriginal Affairs has been doing particularly our work in delivering OCHRE with Aboriginal communities and the way we've been engaging with communities around that work. But I want to start by of course saying congratulations actually for this this Series. I think this is awesome. I understand this is only your second one but really a big shout out to Elizabeth Koff and to Geri and others who have made this happen and I hope Elizabeth's giving it a plug to her colleagues at the Secretary's board because I think it's a great initiative.

So in thinking about where to start today. I thought what I would do is give you a little bit of context of some of the most recent work we've been doing around our research agenda because that was the thing that caused me to have to reflect back not only on the last few years working with OCHRE, but in fact why I got into Aboriginal affairs policy in the first place. So I guess if we start thinking about 2011/2012, a Ministerial Task Force on Aboriginal Affairs was running around the state doing what was at the time and probably still is, unprecedented community engagement. And it was engagement that ultimately led to the establishment of our Aboriginal Affairs Plan, OCHRE. And what we heard everywhere we went from Aboriginal people, was this very clear message that while we'd had various plans and various policies in the past, all of them had raised great expectations for Aboriginal communities, but none of them had actually delivered the tangible improvements in the lives of Aboriginal communities that they had promised. And we've got this quite an ambiguous, quite direct message really that while we were you know, the communities will connect...

Communities were prepared to have these conversations they you know we're very much on notice we've had these conversations before you know, governments you know, earlier iterations of you have been out evacs this through this question before we've given you the same answers and we will continue to give you the same answers. But you are on notice this time around. Our expectation is that you're not only listening to what we have to say but you hear what we have to say and that you respond in a positive way to what you're being told. And during those conversations, communities everywhere raised up four kind of key reform areas that they saw were important to their future well-being. And they went to economic prosperity. People said we want real jobs and real business opportunities in the real economy. Closely aligned to that people said we want to be able to realise the social, economic, and cultural opportunity that's in land for us.

Language and culture came up everywhere as the key. The key is really to unlocking well-being and healing for Aboriginal individuals and Aboriginal communities. And self-determination and agency; this capacity and opportunity to make their own decisions about their own lives were the issues that came up everywhere we went. So people weren't talking weren't raising services, they certainly weren't talking about gaps; they were saying our aspiration is lying in cultural strengths, economic prosperity and our own, our own agency. To be in control of being control of our own lives.

A couple of weeks ago the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs launched the Aboriginal Affairs strategic research agenda and so we've developed that over a period of time with a view to building evidence and new knowledge that we thought was missing. In trying to drive and support this reform agenda. And in the process of doing that, it became a fact that there were some wraparound practices that would be quite significantly influential in whether we were able to achieve the development of these policies or the implementation of new policies that would drive or deliver these aspirations. These things that we talked about a lot but we have very little literature or very little evidence to support our deeper understanding of what works and why. And they go to things that. None of these will be a surprise I would think the cultural capability of the public sector and others who are delivering services to Aboriginal communities. Again related to this because we as public servants generally don't exist outside of or an isolation of broader society and that is the nature of the public discourse around Aboriginal people in Aboriginal communities; the negativity that we see and hear in the media all the time.

Our evaluation and research practice and what are we measuring. Are we measuring things that are important to us, measuring things are important to Treasury officials? Are we measuring things that are meaningful to Aboriginal people. And the fourth one which is what I'm going to focus on this afternoon, which is bringing the voice of Aboriginal people in Aboriginal communities into the development of policy. So we've developed this research agenda that really makes this deliberate shift away from gaps and deficits to emphasise aspirations, to emphasise outcomes and most importantly to put the relationship or the transformation of the relationship between government and Aboriginal people at its heart. Structurally this agenda what we've done is we've got these eight reform areas and we've had a leading academic or a leading practitioner prepare or write a paper on each one of those. And what those papers do is kind of unpack where we think we are, what we know currently and what we think are the gaps in our knowledge that we need to fill to be able to drive the reform agenda.

So there are seven leading academics or practitioners and me. So I did a paper as well. And what I'm going to do is largely talk to you about my paper, which is in fact a reflection piece for me. So what I been thinking about this was about how did I get into this space. And I realised when I was writing it and it was kinda the middle of last year or late last year that it actually almost said the day was 20 years since I've gotten into the broader Aboriginal affairs policy space and not within the agency, but working in the policy area of Aboriginal affairs. And I could remember very shortly after I started I had a boss who was an Aboriginal woman and probably at the time the most senior Aboriginal person in in the sector; they're probably one of the only Aboriginal people in the sector at that kind of SES equivalent or what we would call how I guess band at least band one. And she said to me 'You know Jason, I've been in this space 20 years and nothing's changed'. And my first thought at the time was 'Bloody hell imagine doing anything for 20 years'. I was young but I think when I reflect back on it now, I think she was saying two things to me in her own way. One was keep your expectations low and I think the other one was that somehow it's somebody else's responsibility to make change happen. Seemed a little odd and well certainly doesn't happen and then I think so from there so that's 20 years ago.

A few years later restructures all the rest of it, I find myself in her role. So I'm now the boss and I'm sitting at a table with other senior public servants I don't think there would be any of you because you all look far too young to be there at the time! And we're talking about the previous government's Aboriginal affairs plan. Some of you will remember 'Two Ways Together' and I was really struck, I remember at the time by the this really stark contrast in the language that I and my colleagues were using to talk about our relationship with Aboriginal people in Aboriginal communities. And their discourse was really dominated by this language of victim and perpetrator and client. And I remember thinking at the time. This really doesn't sit comfortably with me it certainly doesn't make sense to me in terms of the way I think about my own family or my own community. And I was coming from a land management service so I came out of a National Park Service what would now be called OEH, working with Aboriginal communities as if they were rights holders; as stakeholders; as co-managers and so coming into this space that was all about deficit it just really struck me as, well it horrified me quite frankly. And it occurred me at the time that that was probably the fundamental thing that was wrong with Aboriginal affairs policy that it was all driven by this notion of Aboriginal people as victims and perpetrators not as human beings with aspiration. And then I think about this kind of policy evolution from 1788 onwards which was really where this preoccupation with observing and analysing and measuring Aboriginal people began. And if we track that policy evolution from protection and segregation through to assimilation and integration and even to this kind of ironic notion of 'giving' people's self-determination, I don't know how you do that, but we see all through that time that government maintained control of the agenda through the measurement of gaps and deficits. And we see that continue today with this notion of Closing the Gap. So for me it was really from that point that I started to commit myself to creating a policy space where conversations went beyond Aboriginal people was disadvantaged and dysfunctional. And we started you know different conversations that were driven by people's aspirations. And that's really how we get to where we are today.

And so the first big opportunity I saw was in 2011 - change of government, finishing up as 'Two Ways Together'. A new government that as they all do who came in and said 'we're going to be different' until they're not and what we're going to do is we can always develop a new Aboriginal Affairs plan and we're going to do that with Aboriginal communities and I thought 'great first real opportunity to fundamentally change the way we do business with Aboriginal people'. And so what we saw out of extensive consultation was OCHRE. OCHRE for me is the first Aboriginal Affairs plan probably in the country to really put Aboriginal people and Aboriginal communities at the centre of its design and implementation. OCHRE itself ... now it's a fabulous acronym and and the word 'OCHRE" very much captures that deep connection that symbolises that deep connection of Aboriginal people in their country. But the words themselves I think you know, it's important not to lose sight of 'Opportunity' 'Choice' 'Healing' 'Responsibility' and 'Empowerment'. They were the key drivers for change that were identified by Aboriginal communities as we went around and talked to them. So it wasn't just that it's a nice convenient acronym, these words actually were the words that people were using to describe the aspirations that they had for themselves and their communities. OCHRE's development and the way we're going about implementing it is that also its ambitious process of co-design. And I mean that in more than just the buzzword that it's become. So we in doing and going about this, we've had to learn to share power. We've had to move from defending what we do because that's what we do, through accepting that sometimes what we do it doesn't always work. We've had to move from consulting with people to negotiating with people. We've had to embrace things that are unfamiliar. We've gone about this iteratively because we didn't have all the answers. So we had to take our time and work through things. Importantly we've had to focus not on fixing problems, but on supporting people to achieve their aspirations and they're quite different things. We've had to really immerse in ... immerse ourselves in Aboriginal communities to understand their aspirations and to be confident that we could work in both Western and Aboriginal ways. We've had a state a course, we've had to keep focused for when things aren't easy and they often have and we've had to be very clear about accountability in the way we've gone about it; who is ultimately accountable? And by working in this way what we've seen is strong community buy-in to what we're doing and and a real belief I think. And I've tested this with some of our community stakeholders that we're serious in our rhetoric.

Five years into OCHRE, the participation and the initiatives that sit within the plan continue to grow every year. Every year we're seeing more kids learning languages in schools through the Language Nests. Every year we're seeing more kids taking up opportunities through the Opportunity Hubs to transition from school to work. Every year we're seeing more communities interested in participating in Local Decision Making and I'll talk about some of that in a bit. And so what we're seeing is a demand for further rollout of these initiatives greater than what we can support, that our budget will allow, that our numbers on the ground will support. And I think certainly unlike previous plans, when I think back to the way communities talked about plans like Two Ways Together quite quickly became 'two ways apart' and 'any two ways as long as its government's way' and all those kind of, you know, the reserve ways of describing it. We don't hear that with OCHRE. There are still by and large a very positive perception and residents I think in the community too.

So we have spent time trying to understand this notion of co-design and what does it mean. And what OCHRE has taught us is that it's not rocket science. It's far from rocket science actually. But it's also not just some variation of business as usual it is a different way of working, not just another buzzword to describe same ole same ole. From our perspective and our experience full of possibilities that certainly been complex in its implementation and there have been challenges along the way. We've raised questions for us about power - who holds the power who exercises power. It's raised questions about aspiration; whose aspiration and for what. It's raised questions about the priority that governments give Aboriginal Affairs policy. It certainly raised questions about the cultural capability of public service to deliver on people's aspirations including our ability to work within Aboriginal perspectives. And so to address these we have had to be innovative, we have had to be flexible, we have had to be committed we have had to continually check ourselves; how we're going, how we're tracking. And we have had to acknowledge that many of the things that Aboriginal people are interested in talking to us about fall outside of our traditional service delivery relationships; they don;t work in that paradigm.

What we found what we've seen is that OCHRE and the work of the Ministerial Task Force that led to it will be looked upon, and we're already looking upon it, as a significant milestone in Aboriginal Affairs in New South Wales. They've changed the way policy is developed certainly by my organisation. They've changed the nature of the relationship we have with Aboriginal communities. They've changed the expectations Aboriginal communities have on us and raised. And they've even changed the role of the office of Aboriginal Affairs within government. Having said all that, there is still a degree to which co-design is just being used as another buzzword in government. I've sat in conversations with the Federal Government talking about the Close the Gap Refresh and they're talking about taking the co-design approach and so what does that mean. 'Well we've got to consult for a couple of months'. Wrong That's not co-design. And so what we are seeing of course these communities continue to be cynical about this. You know, the government and consultants are talking about co-design and really just doing same old same old. From our perspective, organisations like the MCkall Institute and others are now starting to look at OCHRE as good practice nationally. 'Best practice' I wouldn't be that arrogant but 'better practice'. It's something that we're really proud of.

The thing is the promise of OCHRE was that it would change or reset the relationship between Aboriginal communities and the New South Wales Government, not just between Aboriginal communities and my organisation. So that means the way we're working needs to be the way you and other agencies who are delivering services or developing policies for Aboriginal people, you have to do business in the way that we're doing business. And that means that genuine co-design has to become your business as usual. So that's a challenge for us, you know. We've spent five years kind of honing this internally and now we're thinking about well, how do we start influencing the way others do business. And the way we've decided to go about that is by starting a movement.

So in Aboriginal Affairs right now we like to think that we're quietly going about creating a movement. We had been the 'lone nut'. I'm a bit of a lone nut from time to time. I'm not going to dance. Refuse to dance. We've had the second guy, we've had a few more, we've certainly got plenty of fence sitters and plenty of naysayers. But we've gone about this pretty quietly. I think it's fair to say most people haven't a clue what we're up to. And so what I want to do is fill you in a little bit on what we're about what our movements' about. First thing to say about our movement is that membership is open - you're all invited. While it's still possible to be part of the in-crowd we don't discriminate. You can be shirted, you can be shirtless we don't mind. You can be Aboriginal, you can be non Aboriginal. You can be from government, you can be from academia. You can be from the general public. We will take all commers. The only qualification, the only requirement is a commitment to achieving a relationship between Aboriginal people and government that is based on principles of partnership and power sharing, mutual respect and understanding, investment in community strengths, transparency and local accountability. That's what we're aiming for because that's what Aboriginal communities have told us that they want.

Like any good movement we have some principles for the way we work and how we conduct ourselves. These are a mix of traditional Aboriginal custom and some more recent practices that we've honed over the last two hundred and thirty odd years. So we do draw from and celebrate the rich diversity and cultures of Aboriginal people. We do respect both traditional and contemporary customs and practices and protocols. We respect learning as an ongoing and shared process so neither side has all the answers and we don't wait till we've got all the answers before we start. We respect Aboriginal ways of knowing, being and doing. We support Aboriginal people to chart their own course. Really important. And we do things with Aboriginal people, not to Aboriginal people.

What I want to do now is give you kind of three case studies really. I'll be short...I will demonstrate that if we work in accordance with these principles we can fundamentally change policy and relationships. Case study one is about Healing. So Aboriginal people have always known that it is connection with culture, community and country that keep us physically emotionally and spiritually healthy. These notions of dysfunction and disadvantage are actually quite recent, you know, they come with government intervention quite frankly, and these interventions have led to loss; loss of land, loss of livelihood, loss of control, loss of a sense of purpose and a sense of not belonging in our own country. The natural outcome of these, this kind of loss, is trauma.

So when the government in 2011 went around talking to Aboriginal people about what should be in a new Aboriginal Affairs plan, communities right across the state warned us they said if you continue to focus on the gaps and deficits that characterise disadvantage you'll continue to spend billions of dollars delivering services and you will continue to see the same crappy outcomes that you see today. Instead what they said was that we would shift our focus away from services and prioritise keeping people out of the service system in the first place. So there's this sense that we spend a lot of time thinking about the experience that people will have when they get into the system and not a lot of time thinking about how we get them out or keep them out from it in first place. So to do that means addressing the root causes of disadvantage and to do that means you know, healing. But for many outside of our movement, the fence sitters, the naysayers, that was problematic. So people said 'well you know, you're telling us healing is a journey that ... but .... necessitates ... is different for every individual every family, every community so it doesn't lend itself to clear definition. We can't can it we can't performance report it. Those are all important things. You can't achieve it through a program necessarily; it's not a single event, a course. We don't hand you a certificate to say 'wallah you're healed, congratulations'. So all of these raised dilemmas for us and then raised dilemmas for the government - if you can't measure it, if you can't have a program to deliver it, how does the government respond? What's our role? How do we include it in an Aboriginal Affairs plan too? Our Plan was about programs and initiatives. But despite all of those challenges because we had committed ourselves to this set of principles and because the government had publicly committed to listening to Aboriginal people, healing not only became included you know, without a predetermined program but as the acronym suggests it's actually at the very centre of OCHRE. And dictates the way we do business; this healing informed approach.

So the inclusion of healing in an Aboriginal Affairs plan signal​​​led by an acceptance and a commitment by government in acceptance that past government actions and interventions had created trauma for these communities and a commitment to talking and listening to Aboriginal communities to building partnerships to creating understandings and how government could support the work of community to healing culturally appropriate ways. Not to heal people but to support the work that was going on in communities. So as a result of that we've got Healing Forums happening across New South Wales. Well, have had over the last 12 months. And there are conversations that are going on that it deep and substantial and better understandings , better relationships are being built. As a consequence. For us we've had to remain really vigilant because there's always the risk of falling back into our ways of working. We've had the temptation always to rush forward towards a solution, to develop a policy, to develop a program, to develop a framework because that's the way we've always responded. So far not. Happily ... happy to report by adhering to these principles we are working with Aboriginal communities towards solving in time, over time a seemingly intractable problem and ironically a problem that we specifically weren't setting out to address - that is about how do we close the gap - but it's not about closing the gap through more services. In fact it's about closing the gap through healing and reducing service dependency in the long run.

Second example is around agreement making. And the way we have changed the way we do agreement making locally without regional communities. Again, when the Ministerial Task Force was conducting it's consultations that delivered OCHRE, the clear consistent message we heard was that Aboriginal communities wanted a different relationship; a relationship that wasn't based on fixing people up but one that was based on lifting them up; supporting them to achieve their aspirations. In this kind of relationship power does have to be shared, decisions have to be transparent, outcomes need to be measured against the indicators that are important to Aboriginal communities and accountability has to be clear. Obviously that kind of change - and it is a fundamental change to the way we do business - was never going to be easy. We ask ourselves 'Why would government share power and control?' The measurement of Aboriginal disadvantaged has become an industry quite frankly and the announcement of progress or lack of has become an annual event; we're going to get media releases and it's all good. The government ... Governments have invested heavily in how and where they provide services and how they determine the success of those services.

So they're issues of power, they're issues of ownership, there are issues of control that we needed to sort through. To some extent we had luck around this. In 2011 2012 when we were proposing this way of working we had a new government that was committed to local decision-making and accountable government, we had irrefutable evidence that the businesses usual approach wasn't working wasn't changing anything and we had a group of people in a movement who saw an opportunity in this and pursued it.Hard. And the result was Local Decision Making which has become a flagship initiative within a time. This time the naysayers weren't only in government in fact most of the naysaying came from Aboriginal communities who had heard the rhetoric of shared decision-making and self-determination before and was sceptical. So we had to be seen to be doing things differently. So we invited them rather than nominated communities to participate. We ran an open EOI process. We left it to those communities to determine what are their boundaries, what's their what's their membership, what are their priorities, how will they operate, what are their rules. We built incentive into the model for communities to build their capacity with government support. It was tricky. You know when we went out and talked to people about this stuff they said 'we don't believe you ... what's that boundary? Your saying this it's going to be regional what's a region?'. 'It's up to you.' 'Really?' 'How do we need to constitute ourselves?' 'It's up to you.' 'Really?'

There was a lot of scepticism in communities that we were we were serious. But today we've got Agreement Making under Local Decision Making mandated through a Premiers Memorandum that establishes the expectations on public servants for how they will participate. We've got government and communities entering into formal negotiations to establish binding agreements that we call Accords. Agencies are required to negotiate openly in good faith to share data and to work towards positive outcomes not just 'what's the new service' we're going to deliver. Government negotiators have to be senior, they have to be culturally competent. None of these things of business as usual either for government or Aboriginal communities. We entered into this without all the answers. When I sit down with my colleagues from Prime Minister and Cabinet who are rolling out the Empowered Communities model they spent five million dollars on the Boston Consulting Group asking them to develop up something that's not dissimilar to this and they'd say 'well how did you overcome this issue?' 'Well we haven't yet'. 'Surely you didn't start before you dealt with that?' 'Well actually yeah we did. We just started in gave it a crack and we're tweaking as we go'. And what we're seeing it's relatively early days still, is that the relationships on the ground are changing. It's not just the same old same old service provider service recipient relationship we are seeing partnerships form. We are seeing shared purpose and shared goals being developed and we're seeing increasing community buy-in.

We started with a commitment to three trials and local decision making we've no got eight regions covering you know probably 70% of the state participating in this and other regions starting to build their governance arrangements because communities are saying to us and we said to some of these groups we can't support you. We do not have the resources to take on anymore and they said 'we think this is going to work for us and we're going to have a crack'. Interesting question around self-determination. How does the Government respond when the community says 'we don't care we're going to do it anyway and we expect you to support us' and that's exactly what we've had to confront. And that's ... it's self-determination with by every definition of the word.

I think the final story, is something is about the introduction of the Aboriginal languages Act last year; the first and only legislation in Australia to recognise the significance of Aboriginal languages to the well-being of Aboriginal people and the broader cultural heritage of New South Wales. So again everywhere the Ministerial Task Force went the importance of language and culture came up. The desire for Government to support community efforts to develop and grow language came up. So OCHRE responded by saying we will refresh the existing Aboriginal languages policy and we started down that process. But what we found quite quickly was that policy was not going to be a sufficiently strong enough instrument. All of these languages were critically endangered. We'd entered a long term commitment we need long-term focus and we weren't going to get that from a policy. So we proposed legislation. And the naysayers responded. I remember the day it happened. It was a Minister at the time said 'that will never happen, we will never do that, we will never legislate in this state to protect Aboriginal languages.' It would have been pretty easy to kind of leave it at that but instead we've stayed determined and we re-prosecuted the argument time and time again. Changes of Minister all of that and eventually we got members of the movement who took it up and we've got to draft the Bill. The first draft of the Bill had community controlled governance at its heart. So we knew when we went out into communities they would say community have to control this. Problem we had was it was at odds with government policy around trying to reduce the number of statutory boards and the statutory committees and so we actually had government decided, Cabinet decided that we had to change the draft and pull that out. When we went out and talked to community on the consultation draft they saw legislation as being akin to government control; you know we've had this before. And we were talking we were using language that we thought was okay you know we're going to protect Aboriginal languages. Well we've had protection before protection put us on the reserves protection we took away our languages in the first place. So people who had issues with that kind of language. But most fundamentally, they said we will not support Aboriginal languages legislation - as important as it is - unless there is sufficiently independent, there is governance that is sufficiently independent of government and that means we want something like a statutory trust. And so that put us into a really interesting situation. We had a one hand central agency saying 'well the government's kind of decided this so you need a plan B' and we had community saying 'we've decided this it's this or nothing.There is no acceptable Plan B'. And so what we did ultimately was, true to our mandate, I think is we went forward with the community voice. So we backed in that community voice and we said this is the only thing that's acceptable. And so by taking that kind of positive aspirational Aboriginal people need to control the growth and development of their languages, the Government ultimately changed its mind and we have now got a commitment to the establishment of a statutory independent statutory trust comprised of Aboriginal people who are seen as credible language experts in there our Communities. So they're all really positive experiences that we've had just like on maintaining let's moved over that is that set of principles. Notwithstanding that we have seen success and we know that we need to do things in a different way. We still have lots of naysayers, lots of fence sitters and I don't want to go into the whole why thing.

I think for me kind of comes down to two issues really. One is about the way we structure ourselves and our culture as a sector; the way we do things, the way budgets flow. I think how we're trained, you know, a culture, as a sector means the collaboration and pursuing solutions often are counterintuitive to us we kind of operate in our lanes. And what we heard when we were talking to community are - sorry - public servants who were negotiating some of these Accords was that they hear the rhetoric from Sydney about collaboration and innovation and all that. They don't trust it. They don't trust it because the way our culture works. The course of the way you know political lanes run whether budgets are allocated that if we go out and do it that way that we're actually not going to get support from the centre. So there's an interesting issue of trust in all of that for us.

The other aspect I think that holds us back is the assumptions that we make about Aboriginal people in Aboriginal communities and the capacity and the capability in those communities. Our experience is that Aboriginal communities have very good insights into what does or doesn't work for them. They know what needs to change and they want to work with us to find solutions that will work for them but I think sometimes you know our structures and our cultures. Our training get in the way of that. How long for time? I feel like I've been talking for a very long time. Three minutes? All right okay. Well I'm coming I was going to play a short snippet of what about community stakeholders who talks about local decision-making and what it means to work in that way so I won't give them that what I will say is that what Brett... so Brett Tibbett it is the chair of one of the regional alliances that we're working in under local decision-making and Brett lives up at Grafton on the North Coast so the kind of things that he talks about are the fact that we need a seven-day-a-week relationship not a part-time relationship and that that relationship needs to be built on mutual respect, integrity and honesty. He talks he uses phrases like 'we need to know that the ground that we're standing on is solid that the rug is not going to be pulled out from under us just as we start to buy in ... the government's going to go the distance again'.

There's a lot of concern about you know, we start things and we don't see the success that with the way we measure and therefore we would pull it up, you know, we withdraw it and we people will try something else. And people constantly having to start again the 'three-year pilot syndrome'. And ultimately what he's saying is that it's about people and it's about families and that's that quote. You know when we go home at night we look at our families and that's why we do the work that we do kind of inviting us as public servants to do the same thing. Ultimately what Brett will would have said if I'd given him his voice - sorry Brett - is that there is great optimist optimism in Aboriginal communities for the way that we are working and so what I thought given the time is I will just leave you with very my very short sharp eight tips for working like this and this comes out of really five years of working in OCHRE.

Number one. Don't proceed unless there is political acceptance that existing policy approaches aren't working and there is a commitment to change. You know, my experience in 20 years as the bureaucracy and I don't mean that in an offensive way, but we are either too or to hamstrung to make the kind of change, that even if we see it we don't have often had the opportunity. So for us the Ministerial Task Force, seven cabinet ministers sitting around a table helping us develop OCHRE, was a really strong signal of political commitment.

Two. Three truths you must accept if you're going to do this work this way: 1. policies that are fixated on deficits and gaps haven't worked, will never work, 2. government policies and practices of the past have caused drama and distrust and that is the context within which you're working. So ... and that's why culture connection and healing are at the heart of improving our Aboriginal people's well-being and that's why relationships are critical. People need to trust that they've been heard and that we are responding in a positive way because we can actually do more harm, more trauma even with the best intentions.

Third. You have to be ready to grapple with what deep engagement with Aboriginal communities means. And its consequences for the way we develop policies. It does raise expectations and community trust will be gained or lost as a consequence of what you do and how you behave. And my experience has been that while communities do generally generously embrace opportunities to be involved, they will put them on notice and and they are getting tired of the broken promises.

Strangely as it seems you need to be prepared to be held to account for the agreements that you make, the services that you provide. You must be willing to stay the course, test, evaluate. Keep going together. You will need to expose yourself to community scrutiny. You need to take criticism. You need to accept when what you're doing isn't working. You need to keep turning up. You do need to be vigilant you need to check in regularly that you haven't lost sight of your policy intent. As I said earlier it's easy to fall back into old ways of doing things because they save time, that's where we're comfortable but it will mean that your credibility is hanging in the balance. For us, Local Decision Making, we can't lose sight of the fact that it was developed as a local accountability mechanism. The minute we see it as a local community engagement forum it's over.

We have to always remember what our policy intent was. We do need to take a hard look at our structures. These do get in the way. I've talked about that certainly from for Aboriginal Affairs - our structure, our roles, our operating model, all of that changed with OCHRE because we had to you know, that all had to line up with a new way of doing business. And that there was resistance to that within and without.

And I think you, do no I don't think, I know, you do need to bring a greater diversity of Aboriginal perspectives to the table when you're having these conversations going with your existing MOUs, talking to you existing peak bodies it's not going to be sufficient. You're not going to get the breadth, the diversity of interest of views the priority of aspiration in those communities your working.

Seven. And this is important don't ever lose sight of the time and resources that takes to work in this way. It is not quick. It's not easy. It was not cheap. You will go around it'll feel like you're going around and around. It'll feel ... it will feel like you're having to revisit things all the time but that's how you create mutual understanding and that's how you create genuine buy-in. And my experience is that Aboriginal communities will always prefer us to take that more time to get it right then to rush something that doesn't work. For them ultimately it doesn't meet their expectations.

Number eight. You need to create the right environment for this. So you do have to invest in the capacity of Aboriginal leaders to come to the table. You do have to hold people to account for their actions. Never accept racism even if it's unconscious bias. You do need to create a culture of innovation and safe failure. And you do need both. Have one without the other. And you need to value the insights and the capabilities of Aboriginal public servants. These people need to be valued as members of their own communities and as Aboriginal people and they have insights. They're important working in this way.

So I'll finish there. Suffice to say from now it's my perspective we are entering into a new era in the way policy is being developed in New South Wales. We're saying yes, we're showing up we're diving deep, we're doing things differently and people are saying, communities are saying to us they feel better connected and feel more empowered. I feel more hopeful they feel more in control and they're all positives so I guess that's my challenge to you: dive in, get uncomfortable, be innovative. It's been rewarding from my perspective and I know that Aboriginal communities want to be part of the solutions to the issues that they face. And I'm reminded of the conversation that I had some years ago. Now with the Secretary's Board when we first took them Local Decision Making as a concept and their response to me was 'well you know the current approach hasn't worked we've really nothing to lose that why'd we give this a crack'. I would leave you with that - give it a crack.

Meggan Grose: Thank you so much for coming along to do that. That looks really good. Look I've taken away a few things from that and I'm sure my fellow colleagues absolutely would have taken away a few x. Does anyone have any questions? We'll take a few questions just wait for the travelling microphone to get travelled to you.

Audience: Is there a hand out you can circulate to the group?

Jason Ardler: I'll check on that and see what We've got there are a bunch of resources on our website website you might even find some video similar versions of that presentation so check that out.

Meggan Grose: And this seminar as well as the first one were filmed so they are going to both be on YouTube. The first ones already on there and so the presentation will be on there as well so please have a look at that. Any other questions?

Look I've got a question for you. To some yeah you talk about 8 principals principals there with a lot of you know work that Staff would have to, you know, go on and and work in a new way to do. So can you just mention a few of the skills that you think that like some staff would have to like personally grow to be able to you know go and do this work?

Jason Ardler: Yeah interestingly the most important skill or approaches is: stop. Know what we find or often is people want to jump in and even kind of get sometimes conflicting messages either from community depending on how things are travelling so we were doing some work you know part of the state I won't mentioned there and there was some sound unusual there was some infighting within the community and there was this kind of sense on one hand that you know we're doing this work and it's community in control on the other hand it was almost this view almost there was this kind of approach that was you're responsible agile Affairs for that program it's not working because there are people in community who you know we don't get on with you need to stop it you need to close it down we haven't had an ombudsman tell us that you know we needed to intervene in that and our response had to be actually know the whole the whole rationale but for the way we're working is about building local governance local self-determination so yes we need to be providing advice to people about how to manage conflict, but actually it's not our job to jump in and I think we'd do that too often with our real communities.

We've had this kind of history of even a community invitation to jump in and so for us the biggest learning has been to stop and not jump in so whether it's talking about as I said when communities came to us and said well tell us what our boundaries need to be we can easily say well this boundary would make sense to us because it lines up with a health boundary or it lines up with local government boundary whatever it is but it's actually not we need to support you to make these for yourself so the first skill if you'd call it a skill was actually to stop and check ourselves and say 'you know is this way of working if we jump in and try to fix this is it actually counter productive to what we're trying to achieve in the long run the other'.

One I guess for me has been and again I talked a little bit about this is that skill around negotiation and collaboration and what we saw I mean are quite honest with you I have seen situations where government negotiators have gone to the table with a gional communities and thrown stones at one another across the table you know we wouldn't go into a conversation with the federal government or you know another jurisdiction and behave that way. But for some reason we think it's okay to kind of air our dirty laundry in a community negotiation so for me that says a lot about how serious we take that negotiation and the respect we're showing not only our colleagues but also the Aboriginal community that we're negotiating with.

So it's taught us a little bit I think about you know, the capability on the ground and that's not just something that's going to be applicable in the case situation of negotiating Accords between the government and Aboriginal communities but if this is the way public servants are behaving in you know original New South Wales in this context then maybe they're behaving that way in other contexts as well. And it's raised some interesting issues for us, I think around training and culture. Thank you for that well 1:30 exactly look at that time keeping your that's made that was made yeah oh designing the seminar I like that. Thanks again for coming along I'll see you another day.


Current as at: Thursday 5 September 2019
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