Looking ahead: The future of First Nations community consultation

Renee Leon

Commitment to Connection by Sarah Richards

On 19 July, the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) ACT hosted its second-ever NAIDOC Week hackathon sponsored by the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA). Based on their participants’ vast insights, they tell the story of a better future, when government organisations have been transformed and are effectively engaging with First Nations peoples. 

Facilitated by Julie-Ann Guivarra, Deputy CEO at NIAA, 70 participants from across Australia’s public sector explored how, in 2030, government agencies will draw on community knowledge, expertise, and experience to frame policy development. 

From culturally responsive workplaces to community-connected positions, much will have changed in the way the public sector engages with First Nations peoples. This story is based on some of our participants’ recommendations, which will also be summarised in an upcoming report.  

Communities are at the centre 

In 2030, from policy to program delivery, co-design is the foundation of every process, not a discretionary effort. 

Government organisations empower communities to deliver services that matter to them – for example by using existing infrastructure and relationships to provide increased access. To facilitate this, governments employ community-based workers with subject-specific expertise to enable proper two-way engagement. 

As they work together, government and communities trust each other as genuine partners. Governments make a regular effort to understand community issues, valuing the knowledge of elders and listening to understand, rather than respond. During this process, public sector staff don’t use public service language, instead, they are inclusive and clear in how they communicate.  

Cultural leave is encouraged 

In supporting this connection to community, First Nations peoples are encouraged to explore their cultural identity. 

They are always supported to research their cultural roots and take this information back to their families and communities. This is also enabled by non-First Nations parents who have the opportunity to take cultural leave to support their partners and children as they explore their identity. 

Rooted in the principle of stewardship, First Nations peoples are encouraged to maintain this connection with their culture through flexible working arrangements that allow them to work remotely. 

The public service is an employer of choice  

More than just allowing flexible working, government organisations of the future are welcoming, accessible, and committed to diversity. As a result, hiring panels employ yarning circle recruitment approaches that highlight cultural knowledge as an asset, creating different access pathways to positions. 

First Nations staff are also no longer pigeon-holed – they work across identified and non-identified positions, and senior leaders have proper mechanisms in place to support them in making the most of their roles. 

First Nations employees are keen to stay in the public service because their work environments are inherently culturally responsive. However, they’re also equally supported to take what they’ve learnt and return to their communities.  

Advice is valued and remunerated 

While more First Nations peoples are joining the public service, organisations are also appropriately remunerating them for cultural advice that isn’t part of their day-to-day role requirements. 

On top of that, governments make an effort to reduce the consultation burden by creating knowledge repositories as a central source of information.  

Beyond the public service, systemic advocacy is now commonplace, and governments work closely with First Nations communities and academia to develop appropriate methodologies for the evaluation of programs. 

Everyone is on board 

First Nations peoples no longer carry the burden of driving change alone but are instead supported by everyone.  

At the top of department and agencies, secretaries now have performance indicators in their contract that relate to First Nations inclusion and engagement.  

As part of a whole-of-service capability uplift, all public sector staff are developing their cultural competence and understand the burden of ‘living in two worlds’ as a First Nations person, and the risk of burnout that comes with it. This is underpinned by cultural responsiveness indicators in their performance agreements. 

As allies, they actively challenge misinformation, guided by safeguarding principles, clearly understanding their responsibility but also feeling motivated to drive change.  

Safeguarding frameworks provide a common standard  

These safeguarding frameworks are in place across the APS in 2030, setting a uniform standard of confidence, accompanied by legislative change.  

This framework will support the creation of not only culturally safe but broadly safe environments, where there is oversight and accountability provided by a First Nations APS Commissioner. 

No more short-term visions 

All these things will have been achieved by strong long-term visions, with programs funded based on long-term models to give organisations more planning security. 

First Nations engagement is now an ongoing, deeply embedded process guided by realistic and formalised goals. This forms part of a long-term commitment to working with First Nations peoples, following on from the National Agreement of Closing the Gap. 

Looking towards 2050, change continues to be led by energetic leaders who are there for the long run.