In order to impact positive change, Traditional Owners gathered at the 4th Annual On-Country Bush Meeting at Yule River in 2017 resolved to establish a reference group which could interface with all levels of government at a regional-level. The intention of this unified group was to provide a strong community voice that would influence policy reforms and advise relevant political decision-makers on issues affecting Pilbara Aboriginal people. The group’s formation is a unique demonstration of the wider Pilbara Aboriginal community acknowledging that the status quo was inadequate by taking their own initiative, so that positive changes can be made. As a result, the attendees at the 2017 Yule River meeting elected what has now become the “Pilbara Aboriginal Voice (Kakurrka Muri)”, also known as ‘PAV’.
Members of PAV comprise recognised community leaders who were nominated by the Pilbara Aboriginal community present at the meeting, including many Pilbara Elders. PAV’s structure is unique and transformative, representing a union of language groups, working together to call on government to improve outcomes for Pilbara Aboriginal people. It is this make-up which gives PAV a collective – and believed to be unprecedented – cultural authority, endorsed by the community to act on their behalf.
It is PAV’s intention to consult, collaborate, co-design and co-create effective, culturally appropriate solutions to the benefit of Pilbara Aboriginal people; the results of which will, no doubt, also translate into cost-savings and increased performance indicators for government too. The key ideological shift with this approach, however, is that Pilbara Aboriginal people are stepping up to drive change in the region, rather than waiting and reacting to any additional imposition of inappropriate and/or under-performing policies and practices.
To work towards its objectives, PAV started meeting in April 2018. During its initial meetings, PAV has determined its purpose is to: establish itself as the “go-to” Pilbara Aboriginal regional authority; influence and negotiate policy with government to address key issues, funding and resource needs as identified; lobby the government for much-needed regional funding; and, review government reports, and call out deficiencies in achievements to benefit Pilbara Aboriginal people. PAV’s role is not to address native title matters – this work remains the responsibility of the relevant Prescribed Bodies Corporate, legal advisors and land councils.
To facilitate its approach, PAV has created several sub-committees. Each sub-committee focuses on a specific area of concern and set of priority issues. These include: Health, Education, Justice and Community Safety, Child Protection, Employment, Culture and Environment, and Regional Development and Housing. These sub-committees are responsible for progressing PAV’s key issues and priorities outside of its regular meetings, providing timely updates that are communicated back to the wider group. Each sub-committee is authorised to meet with other relevant stakeholders to further PAV’s agenda and affect meaningful change for Pilbara Aboriginal people. They draw on the vast expertise provided by the invaluable community Elders who sit on the group, consulting with them on relevant matters as they arise, and facilitating their involvement in meetings with external parties.
Further, the fact that PAV members participate on this group on a volunteer basis underscores their resolve to ensure its success; their commitment is highly encouraging and admirable. PAV represents a proactive and positive voice for Pilbara Aboriginal people.