Giving Aboriginal communities a genuine seat at the table

News story
Angela Elder PSM discusses her approach to engaging Aboriginal communities about policy decisions. Her work on the landmark South West Settlement was recognised with a Queen’s Birthday Public Service Medal
Angela Elder, Public Sector Medal recipient

Image: Angela Elder, 2019 Public Service Medal recipient

Engaging with Aboriginal communities in a meaningful way means offering a genuine seat at the table, and being open, honest and creative about how Government can deliver better outcomes for Aboriginal people.

These are the thoughts of Angela Elder, Manager Aboriginal Policy and Coordination Unit at the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.

On 10 June 2019, Angela was awarded the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service to native title policy and collaborative partnerships with the Aboriginal community of Western Australia.

The award recognised the key role Angela played to broker the Noongar South West Native Title Settlement in 2015 (the Settlement), an historic native title agreement that represents the largest and most financially significant outcome for Aboriginal people in the country. The Settlement was the culmination of many rounds of engagement and negotiation, dating back to the initial discussions about an agreement with the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council in 2008.

“Since the negotiations have been completed there has been a process of building trust through continuity of relationships, and open and honest conversations,” Ms Elder said.

“Respect is built through the time you invest, and in trust that you will follow through to the end on difficult issues, which can bring you together on common challenges.”

Angela’s authentic and respectful approach to negotiating mutually beneficial outcomes and for creating a new way of working with Aboriginal people and communities has been praised for the opportunities it creates for reconciliation between First Nations peoples and the broader community of Western Australia.

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It’s about early engagement and creating a genuine seat at the table. And being realistic about what you can and can’t deliver. You need to encourage participation and maintain that balance of input between the community and government

Angela Elder PSM, Manager Aboriginal Policy and Coordination Unit

As part of the Settlement, Angela liaised with the Noongar community on the form and content of the Noongar (Koorah, Nitja, Boordahwan) (Past, Present, Future) Recognition Act (WA) 2006. This is the first legislation in WA to incorporate Aboriginal language and to recognise the relationship the Noongar people hold with the land, and the significant and unique contribution they have made to this State.

“Seeing the Noongar people recognised in Parliament as traditional owners of the South West of this State was a massive achievement. It is not only the most fundamental component of the Settlement but confirms that the Settlement has bi-partisan support that will provide ongoing economic and community benefits,” Ms Elder said

“We now have a benchmark for addressing native title agreement making and are working to replicate this in other regions such as the Mid-West and eventually the Goldfields.”

Angela hopes to see Aboriginal policy development and implementation become more coordinated across government, supported by greater cultural awareness embedded into the work of the public service. The Aboriginal Policy and Coordination Unit has an integral role in ensuring that this occurs.

“When you’re out in the community, it’s about taking the time to understand issues, aspirations and relationships. It’s about making sure the process lets people have a voice.”

In October 2018, the Registrar of the National Native Title Tribunal announced registration of the six individual Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) that comprise the Settlement. The Registrar’s decision is currently under judicial review in the Federal Court of Australia, with a decision expected later this year. More information on this process is available from the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.

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Page reviewed 13 September 2019
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