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Launch of the Department’s Indigenous Peoples Strategy

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Speaker: Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter N Varghese AO

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Canberra

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests. I am delighted to welcome you all here today, following the celebration yesterday of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.

First of all I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on, and to pay my respects to their Elders past and present:

  • to Aunty Jude, for welcoming us to Country
  • to other Elders of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples
  • and to all the Elders and leaders of our diverse Indigenous communities represented here this afternoon, custodians of the lands and culture of the First Peoples of this country.

I want to warmly welcome

  • Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
  • Andrew Tongue, Associate Secretary at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • representatives of the diplomatic corps
  • and members of Indigenous Employees Networks from across the Australian Public Service.

DFAT is today making history with the release of a comprehensive Indigenous Peoples Strategy, covering the full spectrum of Australia's international engagement – foreign policy, economic diplomacy, the aid program, and the corporate management of Australia's foreign service.

The strategy will provide a framework for Australia to work with its international partners to advance and promote the wellbeing of indigenous peoples around the world.

We believe Australia can exercise leadership in this area.

On the one hand, we are a developed and highly outward looking country – a member of the G20 and OECD, a shaper of the architecture of the Indo Pacific, and a strong voice in the promotion of international norms in the multilateral system.

And on the other hand, we are a country whose history and identity is firmed rooted in the achievements and experiences of its Indigenous people. And also a nation profoundly affected by the continuing large gap in social and economic outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

In her address to the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in Geneva last year, Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said:

Australia's first peoples are the oldest continuous living cultures on Earth, and we are proud of our rich Indigenous heritage. The contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to modern Australian society is integral to what we are as a country.

Our strategy echoes those sentiments.

A key part of our strategy involves working through the United Nations and the broader multilateral system.

We welcome the commitment of UN member states to the advancement of the world's indigenous peoples, as set out in the new post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

Last month, Sara-Kate Goltz-Wharton, a young Indigenous policy officer in the department, joined Australian Indigenous Leaders at the Human Rights Council in Geneva for the annual session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The rights of indigenous peoples are an important part of the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review process, including Australia's own UPR appearance in November this year.

Australia is committed to strengthening the capacity of the multilateral system to engage on issues affecting the world's indigenous peoples.

DFAT will work to encourage Indigenous Australians to engage overseas. We want to see more Indigenous Australians volunteering, studying, working and developing business relationships around the world.

The Australian aid program could potentially benefit from greater Australian Indigenous participation, drawing on the social and cultural expertise of Indigenous Australians and their experience in delivering services in remote communities in Australia.

Equally, we look forward to working with PM&C to explore whether the Australian aid program might present lessons for the design, delivery and monitoring of Indigenous development programs in Australia.

The Indigenous Guidance Note, being released alongside the strategy today, provides a toolkit for DFAT staff to ensure that aid program investments properly take account of the interests of indigenous peoples and that we operate from that principle that no one gets left behind.

Importantly, the strategy will promote Indigenous Australian participation in our country's growing economic integration with the region.

We see real opportunities for Indigenous Australian businesses to become part of global supply chains, and to play an important role in promoting Australia as a premium tourism destination and in the economic development of northern Australia.

We are also exploring how the private sector might play a greater role in supporting the development of indigenous peoples through innovative financing mechanisms. Indeed, one such proposal was a finalist in the recent DFAT Ideas Challenge, and we are now developing it further.

DFAT is aiming to increase our engagement with Indigenous businesses, and I am happy this afternoon to be signing a new contract with Message Stick for communication services – an example of the benefits that will flow from the government's new Indigenous Procurement Policy.

The contribution of Indigenous people across all facets of our national life – sport, politics, culture, art, the armed forces, academia, literature, science, music, health – is a great gift to this nation.

I have often been struck by the strong and enduring interest in Australian Indigenous culture across many different cultures in many parts of the world. The Yiwarra Kuju Canning Stockroute exhibition – which provides a stunning backdrop to this event today and which has recently been on display in cities such as Jakarta, Mexico City, New Delhi, Tokyo and Canakkale – testifies to this.

I plan to build on the very central role that Indigenous Australians, and Indigenous culture, plays in DFAT's public diplomacy efforts.

Our new strategy looks outward to the world and inwards to DFAT's own culture.

My hope for this department is that we have outstanding, insightful, brilliant Indigenous minds succeeding and contributing at all levels of foreign engagement – not because of their background, but because of their achievements, their passion, their skill.

It was an important milestone in Australia's diplomatic history when Damian Miller was appointed as Australia's Ambassador to Denmark, Norway and Iceland in 2013 – the first Indigenous Australian to be appointed an Australian head of mission. And earlier this year Julie-Anne Guivarra became the first Indigenous officer in DFAT to be promoted to the Senior Executive Service. We hope that the examples set by Damien and Julie-Ann will chart a path for DFAT's talented Indigenous workforce.

I would like to give a special thanks today to one of the members of this workforce, our MC Sheena Graham, who has displayed great drive and creativity in leading the development of this strategy within DFAT.

I also expect DFAT to be an organisation where every individual takes personal responsibility for the values of reconciliation, inclusion and equality. That all staff understand, respect and celebrate Indigenous Australian culture. And that every DFAT officer takes it upon themselves to recognise and eradicate any form of racism.

Thank you again for being part of the launch of this unique strategy.

The strategy has been a long time in the making, and it also marks a beginning.

I look forward to DFAT being a more active participant in indigenous policy and development in the years ahead, in close partnership with the groups and countries represented here today.

Last Updated: 12 August 2015
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