For AIATSIS 2018–19 has been a year of unrivalled opportunities for engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the wider public and the international community to uncover, record and tell the stories of Indigenous Australia, and I am proud to say that the Institute has invested great effort to make the most of these opportunities.
Language is at the heart of cultural resurgence. After speaking at the launch of the UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) in Paris in January 2019, it has been gratifying to see the program of commemoration roll out through the first half of the year. Alongside the high-profile release of the IYIL fifty cent coin and postage stamp, and other events designed to raise awareness in the broad Australian community, AIATSIS has made significant and substantial achievements in language preservation and promotion. The third National Indigenous Languages Survey was carried out, and a report on the state of Indigenous languages, prepared in partnership with the Department of Communications and the Arts and the Australian National University, is due out in 2019–20. Funding of $2 million was secured from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) to produce up to nineteen Indigenous language dictionaries to support language revitalisation and learning, with initial planning complete and the program underway. The first dictionaries are being released early in 2019–20. Several years of work have culminated in the AUSTLANG database becoming a single comprehensive source of information and data about Australian Indigenous languages. Work is ongoing to bring other collection systems in line with that. IYIL activities will continue during the second half of 2019, including an engaging exhibition in AIATSIS’ Rom Gallery.
During 2018–19 AIATSIS completed the first three phases of the Return of Cultural Heritage Project. The project identified 220 overseas institutions with collections of Australian Indigenous material, and so far thirty-four institutions have expressed an interest in discussing a return request. Preliminary return discussions are underway. The appetite of overseas institutions to return materials has been significantly greater than anticipated, which suggests there may be potential for a longer-term program. AIATSIS has welcomed this opportunity to demonstrate cultural repatriation in accordance with best practice for ethics and community engagement, and is partnering with Indigenous communities to return their material and to empower custodians.
Another new initiative that will build on AIATSIS’ extensive research and community networks is the Indigenous Research Exchange. AIATSIS was successful in securing $10 million in funding over three years to develop the Exchange, which will be an aggregator, facilitator and disseminator of Indigenous knowledge for the benefit of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Exchange will also administer a research-based grants program, distributing $6.5 million over three years, designed to add to the collective knowledge that empowers Indigenous-led decision-making and planning.
In addition to the International Year of Indigenous Languages and the Return of Cultural Heritage project, our international engagement has been deepened this year through
formalisation of a partnership with the bicultural National Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. This agreement for international cooperation means we can learn from each other’s strengths and expertise, and continue to build our capabilities in a relationship of shared commitment and two-way exchange. AIATSIS was also successful in receiving a grant from the Council on Australia Latin America Relations to support a two-way learning exchange intended to revitalise Indigenous languages in Mexico and foster Indigenous-led land and water management in Peru.
AIATSIS has set and promoted the standard for ethical practice through the Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies (GERAIS) for twenty years now. While GERAIS has been regularly revised to reflect the changing context, a comprehensive review is underway to mark the 20th anniversary. The review is being led by AIATSIS’ Research Ethics Committee, Research Advisory Committee and Council. After extensive work in 2018–19, a proposed new Code for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research was ready to launch for public consultation in July 2019.
AIATSIS has continued to lead the development of cultural competency across the Australian Public Service and beyond through the rollout of the Core Cultural Competency e-learning program. Developed during 2015 and 2016, in partnership with PM&C and the Department of Social Services, the program is now used by ninety-two agencies, an increase of twenty-two agencies from last year, with 8660 enrolments in 2018–19. Core was made available to all AIATSIS employees in 2018–19, and was also developed as a specific module for correctional officers and frontline staff working in correctional facilities, as part of the Commonwealth’s response to the findings of the Prison to Work Report to the Council of Australian Governments in 2016.
AIATSIS’ greatest asset is its highly skilled and dedicated staff. After nearly five years, negotiations on our Enterprise Agreement were completed, and 84 per cent of staff took part in the successful ballot. The agreement was signed on 13 September 2018 and subsequently approved by the Fair Work Commission. Although the process was long and sometimes difficult, all parties demonstrated a strong commitment to obtaining the best possible outcome for staff. I am happy to be moving into the next year with an agreement in place that provides security and recognises the value of AIATSIS’ people.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Professor Michael McDaniel for his leadership and support as AIATSIS Council Chair between 2017 and 2019, and to welcome Jodie Sizer to her role. I look forward to working with Jodie and all the Council members during 2019–20 towards achieving AIATSIS’ important vision.
Chief Executive Officer