THE Bass Coast Shire Council last Wednesday unanimously voted in favour to establish the Australian First Peoples Advisory Committee (AFPAC), which will commence in September 2021.

Council is committed to an ongoing process of reconciliation and community strengthening, through building strong organisational and community relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

“I think that this is a really important step in building relationships and reconciliation with First Nations People in our community,” said Cr Leticia Laing.

“There’s about 300 people, according to the 2016 Census, who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in our community and it’s important to note that they have higher rates of disadvantage on a lot of areas compared to the rest of the community,” she said.

The Bass Coast Shire Council Australian First People Advisory Committee’s objectives will be to provide advice to council on:

• Supporting initiatives to reduce Australian First Peoples disadvantage.

• Improving social justice opportunities with the community within the municipality.

• Supporting events that acknowledge significant occasions for the community, in particular National Sorry Day, National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week.

• Working with council to promote the spirit and practice of reconciliation within the Council structure and throughout the wider community.

• Making recommendations to Council on a range of community issues that may affect the community in Bass Coast.

• Supporting the development of appropriate Council policies in response to the Statement of Commitment to Indigenous Australians.

• Supporting increased cross-cultural awareness within the Bass Coast and at all levels of the Council.

• Assisting the community in its pursuit of self-determination, economic development and community sustainability.

The expression of interest process called for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community representatives for the committee to reflect that they are a First Nations Person living in Bass Coast, that they have a diverse range of expertise, that they demonstrate the capacity to consider the direction of cultural opportunities in a fair manner and that they can work as part of a team.

Council received six community representative nominations from Aunty Bev Munro, Aunty Doseena Fergie OAM, Bon Quin, Safina Stewart, Shani Blyth and Uncle Anthony Egan.

One community representative will be nominated to co-chair the committee.

The council endorsed that Mayor Brett Cr Tessari is the councillor representative and co-chair to the Australian First Peoples Advisory Committee and the Deputy Mayor Cr Michael Whelan as the alternative co-chair should the mayor be unavailable.

“I think it’s appropriate that the mayor and the deputy mayor be our representatives as leaders of the communities, and I think it’s really important so that you can directly bring back to us councillors any recommendations that are required,” said Cr Ronnie Bauer.

The implementation of the AFPAC will provide a platform for ongoing engagement between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and council across a broad range of issues.

“I actually had a few reservations when reading the agenda at first and I’d like to be upfront about that. I just thought: ‘Another committee, oh no, more red tape for everyone to get through’,” Cr Rochelle Halstead said.

“But I’ve had conversations with my colleagues and with officers in relation to what this committee aims to achieve, and I’m really excited about where this committee could take us.”

The committee will drive the council’s Reconciliation Action Plan which is currently under development. It will be a leading advocacy group for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community affairs across Bass Coast.