9.5 Kick-starting the process of nation rebuilding
“There will be no magic leap from ‘rights recognition’ in the courts to self-government or self-determination. We need to be practical and we need to begin with effective governance. But even that won’t be easy, given the … The size and remoteness of our communities, the chance of having and retaining experienced, educated Aboriginal people with capacity and skills, of being able to build organisations with economies of scale, and of having access to economic opportunities, all present a significant challenge. Nevertheless, we have to find innovative ways to meet this challenge, and perhaps, eventually, we will have to make some difficult decisions.”
(Neil Sterritt, Keynote Presentation to the AIATSIS Native Title Conference,
As an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leader put it, “Australian governments may not see us as a nation, but we are going to act like a nation, in every way we can”
How can you make a start on the work of rebuilding or refashioning governance for the new era, and act as a nation?
How can you rebuild effective governance that will strengthen self-determination, rather than undermine it?
How can you deliver real outcomes that are proactive rather than reactive?
What would a new kind of effective practical governance for nation rebuilding look like?
This section provides you with an overview of the practical steps that successful nations have used in their journey. Several tools are provided to support your nation’s discussion of its governance priorities, capacities and future options. Use these in conjunction with the other templates and tools in previous sections of the toolkit if you want to focus on a particular area first.
9.5.1 Ten practical steps: your foundations
All the national and international evidence suggests that the 10 steps listed below are critical to building effective self-governance for the work of nation rebuilding.
Building the Murdi Paaki governance structure
Sam Jeffries, Chair of the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly talks about the emerging structure and governance model of the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly.
9.5.2 Lay the groundwork: consider your governance history
Nation rebuilding is about informed cultural choice.
A sensitive reconsideration of your group’s governance history can positively assist the process of reconfirming or renewing cultural choices about what kinds of contemporary governance you value.
And you can do it at your own pace.
Template: Mapping your governance history
This resource lays out some basic questions and instructions for mapping your governance history. Follow these instructions and work with your leaders, nation or community members to see how your governance history is influencing the way you work today.
ALPA empowerment of Yolngu communities
In this video the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) considers its history, where it is today and its vision for the future.
9.5.3 Map your governance assets and strengths
Before you begin your rebuilding work, have a think about the kinds of strengths, assets, resources, talents, skills, experience and knowledge you can call upon from the members of your own nation.
Something as important as a plan for rebuilding your governance needs to be initiated and championed by your nation or community’s network of leaders and elders.
It needs people with real authority and cultural legitimacy to take the lead in order to make changes to governance, so that the results win the support of your members and external supporters.
9.5.4 Use a governance development and action plan
Don’t lose momentum because you can’t keep track of your insights, conversations and good ideas.
To assist you work through the process of evaluating and rebuilding your governance, we have provided a governance development and action plan. This plan is also provided in Topic 3, where you will find additional useful information on how to use the template.
The template is a combined strategic and action plan that focuses on setting out your specific plan of attack, and your best options, solutions and tactics for achieving the governance goals of your nation, community or organisation.
It provides you with a series of practical steps, along with tips, advice, tools, and also explains some of the basic terms, concepts and issues of governance development.
You can work through it progressively, or you can work on specific issues you have already identified as priorities for change. Use it to start conversations amongst your members about their ideas, values and priorities.
You can use it in conjunction with the many self-evaluation tools and check-ups provided throughout the toolkit, to start assessing the current state of your governance.
You can adapt the plan to suit your own circumstances and to track your progress in working on the 10 steps above. It is suitable for small groups, communities and nations, as well as organisations.
Template: Governance development and action plan
This Governance Development and Action Plan is based on a strategic planning template that was developed by Dr Ian Hughes at the Yooroang Garang: School of Indigenous Health Studies in The University of Sydney. You can customise the template to suit your own needs, doing it in chunks, or using it to create a longer-term strategic approach to your governance rebuilding
Your plan can start off small and focus on a limited number of specific issues, or it can be based on a wide-ranging evaluation of your governance.
If you carry out a broader plan containing big initiatives, make sure you have a realistic timeframe for implementation that allows several years for the changes to be made.
This will allow you to prioritise changes and carry them out at a pace that builds your members’ confidence rather than creates anxiety and uncertainty.
Governance rebuilding needs time for innovative solutions to be tested out in the real world—you will probably want to refine your arrangements over time.
So don’t set things in concrete too early. And get feedback on what your members think about the changes.
9.5.5 A mandate from your members
A critical factor for each step in building effective governance is communications—effective implementation is directly related to the level of support and engagement from your nation or community members. They are more likely to have trust and confidence in your governance proposals for nation rebuilding if they fully participate in and are consulted about the process and options.
Community and member engagement and communication should be ongoing, even when you expect they might disagree with some ideas.
Effective consultation is important for understanding member and community opinions about a particular issue.
Not everyone in your community or nation will have the same interests, cultural rights or enthusiasm for the process.
They should not be excluded—every voice is important and if neglected can later undermine consensus and solutions.
There are many different tools and reports on effective consultation and participation. The tool below summarises some of the key points.