Australia must ‘listen deeply and act bravely’ on Indigenous issues, new DFAT boss says

By Melissa Coade

July 8, 2022

Jan Adams
DFAT secretary Jan Adams.

Jan Adams has used her first speech as DFAT secretary to reflect on calls for greater action on First Nations issues. 

In an address marking NAIDOC Week in Canberra, the secretary said the Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! theme was a call-to-action to embrace truth-telling, and learn more about First Nations cultures and histories.

“Indigenous Australians continue to rise above challenges and adversity to sustain their identity, culture, and way of life,” Adams told a crowd at the National Museum of Australia on Wednesday.

“That is why this year’s NAIDOC theme has such resonance.”

Lowitja Foundation CEO Janine Mohamed shared the meaning of dadirri with DFAT public servants at a special event at the department earlier this week. Adams referred to the cultural practice of deep listening, noting the concept depended on respectful, reciprocal relationships built on trust.

“As Professor Mohamed said, we will only ever travel at the speed of trust,” Adams said.

“Indigenous Australians continue to rise above challenges and adversity to sustain their identity, culture, and way of life.”

The new DFAT boss said this year’s NAIDOC Week theme acknowledged champions of change, and called for ongoing momentum to secure collaborative institutional and structural reforms for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Australia is home to the world’s oldest continuing culture – culture which is a vital part of modern Australia’s soft power and our international face.”

Adams went on to say the department was working towards the new government’s commitment to ‘work in genuine partnership with First Nations people’ by establishing an Ambassador for First Nations Peoples supported by an Office for First Nations Engagement. 

This new office aimed to contribute First Nations perspectives in Australian foreign policy, to contribute to our engagements in the Indo-Pacific region, to advance Indigenous rights and interests within the UN and other international forums and to continue to build our own First Nations capability and advocacy, Adams said. 

In terms of the prime minister’s vision of lifting First Nation outcomes across health, justice, housing, employment and environmental and cultural protection in Australia, the secretary added the department was taking its own internal commitments seriously. 

“This department now has 129 employees who identify as Indigenous, 30 of whom are currently representing Australia at overseas posts,” Adams said. 

“Of course, having a workforce that can draw on diverse lived experiences to address complex global challenges demonstrates the depth, complexity, and diversity of this, our country. It’s a point that foreign minister Penny Wong has been making in her early visits through South East Asia and Pacific Island countries.”

The secretary said other internal initiatives included DFAT’s Indigenous Employees Network supporting the department with its Indigenous recruitment and retention strategies, and strengthening its Indigenous procurement programs.

The event at the National Museum was also the world premier of CONNECTION – a digital, immersive exhibition marking a journey through sky, land and water Country. The exhibition was curated by Dr Margo Neale and showcases the work of over seventy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and musicians.

Adams thanked Dr Neale for her collaboration with DFAT to bring another Indigenous Australian exhibition to Europe.

“Margo has just returned from Berlin where she opened the blockbuster show Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters at the Humbolt Forum. This landmark exhibition recently completed its international premiere at The Box in Plymouth and after Berlin will travel to Paris’ Musee du Quai Branly, both supported by DFAT,” Adams said. 

Paul Girrawah House gave a welcome to country as a Ngambri-Ngunnawal Custodian for the occasion. 

Ambassador to Jordan and dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Ali Kraishan, attended the event with other dignitaries.

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