Briefing: Strengthen the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body

The Elected Body represents Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in Canberra. It presents the views of the community to government and is intended to hold government accountable for the effectiveness and outcomes of programs and services to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

What we want:

  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Body needs to be strengthened with more resources and more resourced time for the members, particularly the chair.
  • The ACT Government Directorates need to transform the way they work with the Elected Body, and accelerate implementation of the current Agreement.

What is the Elected Body?

Seven members are elected for three-year terms by any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enrolled to vote in the ACT. Each of the seven members holds a portfolio responsibility to work on specific issues with a key ACT Government Department. An election is taking place in July 2024 for new members.

Elected body members are remunerated for their time spent in meetings and the chair is employed part-time. It now has an independent secretariat[1].

The Agreement between the Elected Body and the ACT Government

The ATSIEB has negotiated with the ACT Government a 10-year agreement, the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement 2019-2028, which is jointly signed by the ACT Chief Minister and Chair of ATSIEB.  The agreement is based on the right of Indigenous people to self-determination and has a strong focus on children and young people, cultural integrity, inclusivity and community leadership. Its ‘significant areas’ cover strong families and community connection, lifelong learning, housing, economic participation, health and well-being and justice.

We are now half-way through this agreement, and at a hearing in August 2023[2], the Elected Body identified five ‘key reforms that should be the ACT Government’s focus to improve services’. These are:

  1. Child protection system reform,
  2.  Justice and Housing Directorates to work together to reduce people on remand due to lack of suitable housing,
  3. Transfer management of Boomanulla Oval and the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm to community control and management, and the development of an Aboriginal Community-Controlled Housing service in the ACT,
  4. Early childhood education and health; especially access to early childhood education,
  5. Ensuring proportional funding, that is, funding proportional to the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people using the services, and goes to providers with experience and accountability to the Indigenous community.

Recent developments

In August 2023 the ACT Auditor General reported very critically on the poor implementation of the Agreement. The audit found that the governance arrangements for implementation of the ATSI Agreement were not effective. Of 99 priority actions in the early focus area action plans, 24 had not been adequately addressed by directorates in their implementation plans. And outcomes reporting was poor, making it difficult for the Elected Body to hold the government to account for the desired outcomes of the agreement. The ACT government is now responding to this Report.

In February 2024 the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs announced that there would be ‘an independent First Nations-led review of the Elected Body model. The review process will make recommendations to better align the Elected Body model with the needs and views of the community and with the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The Review process will allow an incoming Government to present a model for a strengthened Elected Body in the first half of 2025, to be implemented in 2026.’

While this process is occurring, the key reforms the Elected Body called for in August 2023 remain urgent priorities, and need to be implemented as soon as possible.

Further Reading

ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement – ACT Government

Rachel shrugs off auditor’s scathing report | Canberra CityNews

To contact ANTAR ACT:

Authorised by Janet Hunt on behalf of ANTAR ACT

June 2024

[1] In Feb 2024 the Government announced some increased funding to the Elected Body and the secretariat


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