Australia Appoints First Nations Ambassador in Bid to ‘Progress Indigenous Rights Globally’

BY Nina Nguyen TIMEMarch 9, 2023 PRINT

The Australian federal government has announced the country’s First Nations ambassador in an attempt to elevate Indigenous rights to the world stage.

The move comes as the Labor government continues to push for greater Indigenous representation in politics, despite it already having an Indigenous Australians Minister and 17 major Indigenous organisations and programs at the Commonwealth level.

As the country’s first Indigenous ambassador, Justin Mohamed will lead the Office of First Nations Engagement, which operates within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“This new position ensures, for the first time, that Australia will have dedicated Indigenous representation in our international engagement,” said Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and Senator Pat Dodson in a joint statement on March 7.

“Together they will work in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to progress Indigenous rights globally and help grow First Nations trade and investment.”

Wong said that the appointment of the First Nations ambassador would enable more profound engagement with many of Australia’s Pacific neighbours.

In a Twitter post, Burney said Mohamed will “do great things on the world stage and help elevate First Nations voices to the world stage.”

“For the first time, Australia will have dedicated Indigenous representation in our international engagement,” she said. “Justin has worked for decades in First Nations health, social justice, and reconciliation.”

Mohamed, a Gooreng Gooreng man from Bundaberg in Queensland, is Victoria’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People and deputy secretary of Aboriginal Justice.

He was previously the CEO of Reconciliation Australia CEO and chairperson of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

“I am excited about the opportunities ahead to embed First Nations voices and knowledge into Australia’s foreign policies and trade,” Mohamed said.

“I am looking forward to sitting down and listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country as we develop foreign policies that have First Nations People’s knowledge, voice and connection to country front and centre.”

Heavy Funding For Indigenous-Related Causes

The announcement comes as state and federal governments increase investments in Indigenous-specific programs, with billions of dollars spent on multiple Indigenous agencies, organisations, initiatives and measures each year.

The average funding for Indigenous Australians-related matters is $4.2 billion per year, according to the Budget Review October 2022-23 Index. This includes $15.9 million for the Torres Strait Climate Centre of Excellence, $10 million per year for the management of Indigenous Protected Areas, and $1.5 million for the 15th Anniversary of the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples.

And the number is only rising, with the October Budget providing $1.1 billion more than the March Budget.

The Budget Review also noted that “the actual funding increase is greater than shown” as it does not include the $300 million funding allocated for Indigenous housing.

Deputy Leader of the Opposition Sussan Ley has previously criticised Labor for lacking constraints in spending after the government decided to double the tax on high superannuation earnings to raise the budget’s bottom line.

“They’re in government now, and it’s their job to spend less to manage the economy prudently and to recognise that Australians deserve to keep more of the money they earned,” Ley told ABC’s radio program RN Breakfast on March 2.

Voice to Parliament

Similar arguments were also heard in the debate on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, a Labor proposal that seeks to enshrine an Indigenous advisory body in the parliament.

While the proposal is often described as a necessary move to improve Indigenous political representation, NBA player Andrew Bogut argued the millions being spent on encouraging Australians to vote to change the Constitution should, instead, be directly spent on helping Indigenous communities.

Bogut said the seven sporting organisations involved in the Voice campaign were “bowing to the government” because they were afraid of losing funding.

“We saw it with COVID and elections. Sporting organisations and clubs have to bow to the government and promote these causes because they know if they don’t, the government won’t give them grants for stadiums, facilities, and junior expansion,” he told The Epoch Times.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton previously argued that while he understands the role of “symbolism,” he wants ‘practical solutions” to improve the living condition of Aboriginal communities, noting that previous bipartisan attempts to close the gap “have all failed.”

“Nobody, hand on heart, can sit here today to say that we are in a better position in many of those instances than we were five or 10 years ago,” he said in May last year.

“Going to a meeting here in Canberra and giving 10 acknowledgments to country, that’s fine, and I don’t say that in a disparaging way.”

“[But] I want to know how it is we’re going to support those kids and how it is we’re going to get higher health outcomes and mortality rates, and more kids going through university, just to finish primary school, secondary school to start with.”

Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this report.

Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at
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