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Power intoxication

By Stephen Hagan - posted Monday, 19 May 2008

Indira Gandhi (1917 - 1984) Prime Minister of India from 1966 to 1977, and from 1980 until her assassination in 1984, once said: “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”

The Australia 2020 Forum held in the nation’s capital on April 19-20 was designed to provide a unique, possibly once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity for Australia’s brightest Indigenous minds to come together in an ambience of impartiality to pool their collective thoughts on solutions for the future.

As part of that privileged group of 100 who participated in the Options for the future of Indigenous Australia stream I was optimistic of constructive and practical outcomes emanating from the weekend gathering.


Although I was in a buoyant mood in my approach to the weekend I’d be deceitful if I didn’t say I was, at times, somewhat anxious of the thought that there could well be a conference implosion from the weight of divergent views of high profile personalities who might find proceedings not to their liking.

I gathered Dr Jackie Huggins, Co-Chair of the Indigenous stream, had similar thoughts as well when, on the 2020 Forum website, she instructed Indigenous participants, in a succinct if not a tad audacious manner, to leave their egos at the door.

On the opening morning delegates could be seen excitedly greeting one another inside the Great Hall in Parliament House while waiting for the national address by the Prime Minister. Although powerful in his delivery I must say the delegate who impressed me more than the PM in the introductory session was Sana Nakata who spoke after the notable “Welcome to Country” address by Matilda House.

Ms Nakata, who is a PhD student of Torres Strait Islander descent and the daughter of eminent UTS Professor Martin Nakata, gave an eloquent, insightful and inspiring paper which left an indelible impression on the 1,000-strong delegation and large media throng; and in so doing assured them that the future of Indigenous affairs was in safe hands.

Besides Dr Huggins, who spoke on the final day closing session, the other Indigenous delegates who spoke to the full assembly during the two days, Tim Goodwin and Rachel Perkins, were outstanding ambassadors for Indigenous Australia and were deserving of their positions on the official dais.

The two-day Forum, for me, was a dichotomy of chances taken and opportunities lost.


It wasn’t for want of trying that opportunities were missed. In respect to the management of individual streams I believe the sessions were well organised and for that credit must go to the efficient facilitators who managed to elicit big ticket items and actionable strategies from delegates after only one and half days of deliberation.

The big ticket items were able to be arrived at as a direct consequence of facilitators presenting delegates with a strategically controlled environment: 10 participants in 10 round table diverse groupings; multiple scribes per table, television cameras constantly recording every word spoken; photographers clicking away at will recording participants from all angles; time limit of two minutes per speaker, to name a few of the conditions for engaging in the debate.

In fact the first day’s outcomes exceeded most delegates’ expectation with the Treaty and a Futures Fund to alleviate Indigenous disadvantage being the number one and two items respectively, followed closely by the revitalisation of a national representative body.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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