Beware the people-focused omnibus

Revisiting Whitlam's vision for organising Indigenous affairs

Featured in

  • Published
  • ISBN: 9781925603316
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

ORGANISING GOVERNMENT CAN be as important as policy. In his 2017 Wentworth Lecture to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Martin Parkinson noted that there had been eleven structures of Commonwealth Indigenous affairs administration under twenty-one ministers in the fifty years since the 1967 referendum. This, he argued, was ‘churn’ in the machinery of government, which impacted on ‘the transfer of knowledge and capability from one generation of public servants to the next’.

I count administrative arrangements in Indigenous affairs since 1967 in five organisational eras, each with multiple internal variations. This places my numbering of organisational arrangements both above and below Parkinson’s eleven. But what seems more important than numbers is the diversity of these arrangements, and whether we have yet identified an administrative structure that might endure. As a scholar of government and public administration based at the Australian National University, I argue that Gough Whitlam was on the right track in organising Indigenous affairs during his term as prime minister from late 1972 to 1975 – and that it is useful to revisit his vision.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

If you are an educator or student wishing to access content for study purposes please contact us at

Share article

About the author

Will Sanders

Will Sanders is a senior fellow in the Australian National University’s College of Arts and Social Sciences. He has worked in four departments at...

More from this edition

Celebrating difference

MemoirI’VE EXPERIENCED THE transcendental power of switching from a toxic narrative of low expectations and negative stereotypes to a new one in which we...

Whispering in our hearts

IntroductionLONG BEFORE 1873, when William Christie Gosse ‘discovered’ the six-hundred-million-year-old sandstone monolith at the centre of Australia and called it Ayers – for the...

The long road to Uluru

EssayUluru is a game changer. The response of ordinary Australians to the Statement has been overwhelming…a rallying call to the Australian people to “walk with us in a movement…for a better future".

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.