The Council of Aboriginal Services Western Australia Inaugural ACCO Gathering 2024

The Council of Aboriginal Services Western Australia (CASWA), a new peak body supported by AHCWA and representing the Aboriginal community-controlled sector in Western Australia, held its inaugural ACCO Gathering this May. CASWA’s aim is to strengthen and increase the capacity of WA ACCOs involved in service delivery to Aboriginal people in WA across priority sectors identified under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The CASWA Gathering featured addresses by Pat Turner OAM, Lead Convener of the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations;  Sabine Winton MLA, Minister for Early Childhood Education; Child Protection; Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence and Community Services and Social Justice Commissioner Katie Kiss; and emphasised the critical role of ACCOs in leading and developing services for Aboriginal communities.

In her address, Vicki O’Donnell OAM, a proud Nyikina Mangala woman from Derby and interim Chairperson of CASWA, advocated for the critical role of ACCOs in leading and developing services for Aboriginal communities, highlighting the importance of collaboration and shared expertise to achieve better life outcomes for Aboriginal people across Western Australia. Vicki emphasised the collective belief in the expertise and strength of ACCOs, highlighting their critical role in developing and leading services for Aboriginal communities. She noted that ACCOs, regardless of size or establishment, have the community connections, expertise, respect, and legitimacy to deliver better life outcomes for Aboriginal people. Vicki highlighted the need for strategic and practical efforts to build connections within the ACCO sector and work with government partners to address structural and policy frameworks impacting children and families. She called for action in response to recent tragedies in child protection and youth justice systems, stressing the importance of genuine partnership with the government to develop culturally appropriate, community-led opportunities for Aboriginal people.

In her keynote speech, Pat Turner OAM, Lead Convener of the Coalition of Peaks, emphasised the importance of a new era where ACCOs unite across sectors to strengthen their communities, employ more Aboriginal people, and better match services to needs. Pat highlighted the role of ACCOs in providing a voice for Aboriginal people, advocating for better healthcare, rights, and protection, particularly during COVID-19, and representing regional issues on a national level. She underscored the significance of the Closing the Gap (CTG) agreement, which fosters shared decision-making with the government to address mutual impacts and stresses the need for persistent efforts, quoting, and “A river cuts the rock not because of its power but through its persistence.”

In her keynote, Minister Winton stressed the importance of early intervention in areas such as domestic violence, housing, and youth at risk, and the strength of Aboriginal people across WA. Minister Winton stressed the need to improve child protection, reduce the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, and invest in programs that keep children with their families and connected to their culture.

Commissioner Katie Kiss highlighted the cornerstone principles of human rights, emphasizing the importance of ensuring access to rights and services to uphold human dignity. Recently appointed, Kiss shared her initial thoughts and plans for collaboration over the next five years, joining four other commissioners focused on societal reform. She acknowledged the systemic failures that Aboriginal people navigate daily and stressed the need to rebuild social fabric and create conditions to realise their rights.

The origins of CASWA are rooted in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, which requires all governments to change their approach to working with Aboriginal people through four Priority Reforms. CASWA, established as a true act of self-determination, aims to support and strengthen the broad ACCO sector in Western Australia. Since its registration in March 2023, CASWA’s membership has grown from 15 to 45 members, spanning various regions across the state.

You can find out more about CASWA here.