First Nations women and community leaders head to Canberra for Straight Talk


After a three-year hiatus due to COVID, more than 50 First Nations women gathered at Parliament House in Canberra last week to meet with federal ministers and learn more about the political system.


Since 2009, the Oxfam Straight Talk Summit has brought together more than 950 Indigenous women from across the nation, with many participants ascending into higher decision-making roles within their communities and beyond.

Along with engaging in small group meetings with politicians and partaking in a Senate role play, participants were also able to hear from speakers Yamatji-Noongar woman and WA Senator Dorinda Cox and Karen Diver, US President Barack Obama’s Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs.

Executive Lead of Oxfam’s First Peoples Program and proud Wamba Wamba, Yorta Yorta, Dhudhuroa and Dja Dja Wurrung woman Ngarra Murray said the return of the summit represented so much to First Nations women and communities, and was especially significant given Linda Burney’s appointment as the first Aboriginal woman Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

She said Straight Talk was an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from across the country to gather on Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country “bound by a mutual commitment to empower their communities and to contribute to real, positive change for generations to come”.

“Most importantly, Straight Talk supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to amplify their voices and realise their right to self determination.”

The women - ranging in age from 20s up to 60s - attended the summit’s official opening ceremony at Parliament House hosted by Linda Burney. 

“We've got to make sure that what the Parliament decides is informed by First Nations people,” Ms Burney wrote on Facebook after the event.

“That's why I'm working hard for the Voice to Parliament, and why I never want to miss a chance to talk to the next generation of First Nations activists. It was a pleasure to address Oxfam Australia's Straight Talk Summit. I hope the Indigenous women taking part make big waves in the years ahead.”

Led by Kuka Yulanji woman and NAIDOC Scholar of the Year 2015, Michelle Deshong, the women also took part in small group meetings with politicians at Parliament House, participated in a Senate role play and heard from MPs such as Yamatji-Noongar woman and WA Senator Dorinda Cox and Senate President Sue Lines.

Guest speakers included Jody Broun, a proud Yinjibarndi woman from the Pilbara in WA and Chief Executive Officer of the National Indigenous Australians Agency, and Karen Diver, who was US President Barack Obama’s Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs.

Federal Climate Change and Energy Assistant Minister, Senator Jenny McAllister  said meeting the women from Straight Talk was a highlight of her week.

“Each of them brought their experiences in their own communities and workplaces to a very honest & inspiring conversation about women and leadership. These women have big plans to make a difference for the people that rely on them.”

'A stronger voice'

Kaurna and Arabunna woman Janette Milera said she felt humbled to be invited to attend the summit — a program she has applied to take part in every year since it first began in 2009.

Ms Milera said the program had empowered her to keep pushing for change. "I know that I have a strong voice but let me tell you, there were some women there that had much stronger voices than me," Ms Milera told the ABC.

Ms Milera said the conference was a great opportunity to see what strategies other First Nations women used in their own communities to advocate for change.

"I am seriously looking at how I can move from the community activist ... to a much more stronger voice and a more powerful voice that will actually help make change."

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