• Straight Talk: Oxfam Australia - James Henry (Oxfam Aus )Source: Oxfam Aus
More than 80 Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander women have spent four days in the nation's capital, learning from each other and connecting with the most powerful women in politics.
Claudianna Blanco, Laura Morelli

9 Nov 2016 - 3:11 PM  UPDATED 9 Nov 2016 - 3:16 PM

Over the course of six years, Straight Talk has engaged more than 550 Indigenous women. While most success stories are of quiet achievers, prominent Indigenous female leaders Senator Linda Burney and Mayor Vonda Malone have also reaped the benefits of this program. 

The national summit aims to connect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with the political system and build the capacity of women as change makers. With a focus on practical tools and confidence, Straight Talk strives to bring people together to share, learn and be effective in making a difference.

It's a long road between a humble poster of the United Nations on a Queensland bedroom wall and the world stage.

The journey of young Indigenous lawyer Megan Davis, to become chair of the UN panel on Indigenous issues was an inspiration for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who attended Oxfam's Straight Talk leadership summit in Canberra.

Professor Davis became obsessed with the UN as a youngster, thanks to her mother's foresight to buy her copies of Time magazine, despite the financial difficulties of being on a single parent's pension.

Ms Bishop reflected on the importance of role models during her address.

"It's hard to be what you cannot see," she said. "We can take great pride in the fact there are Indigenous Australian women shaping the debate on global issues in global forums."

Ms Bishop hailed the achievements of go-getter Indigenous students studying overseas under the federal government's New Colombo Plan, including Amarina Smith from Griffith University who is going to Hong Kong.

East Arnhem Land dancer, 22-year-old Ineke Wallis, had articulately addressed the struggles for housing in her community at the United Nations, Ms Bishop said. She urged the women to take note that change comes from within.

Dr Helen Szoke, CEO Oxfam says this is all about leadership and change.

"The purpose of it is to really work with Aboriginal women to be activists in their own communities, at the level that they chose, whether it's local, regional, national, international," she said.

"It's all about lobbying, developing proposals, it's actually about refining what they think will work in their community." 

“Change isn’t something someone else does. Change is what we do.”

Labor Senate leader Penny Wong also echoed those sentiments.

"You can make a decision to not be interested in politics but you can never make a decision not to be affected by politics," she said.

Ms Wong says we have to be interested and engaged with politics to affect change.

"People work in different areas, some people work in their local community, some people work in the grassroots, some people work in Indigenous health, some people work in the justice system.

But ultimately, some of us have to work in the political system, and all of us have to make sure you’re interested in it because the outcomes for your community do in large part depend on the willingness of people in this place to do the right thing."

Early childcare student, Abigail Lui says it’s important for her as a woman, to come and listen to about how other women lead and learn how to lead as a woman.

"The most important issue in my community is the closure of a childcare in most of the Torres Strait communities and the important thing is that our children are our future," she said

"It inspired me and made me more confident in teaching other women."

Mother-of-six Lisa Lui from Mer (Murray) Island in the Torres Strait said being involved in the leadership program had given her enormous courage.

"I didn't know the potential I had in me," she said.

Her focus is on improving education levels of young people in her community and helping them to find a sense of identity in their culture while at the same time carving a path in the modern world.

Ms Lui beams with pride as she talks about her teenage sons who are doing a traineeship in banking and a carpentry apprenticeship.

"When I was their age, I had no mentor in the community, I didn't know right from wrong," she said. 

Ms Bishop says the ideas from the Straight Talk applications. 

"From new ways of dealing with mental health issues, or drug dependence, ideas for new community services."

The Straight Talk forum finishes in Canberra on Thursday. The women will then return to their homes across Australia and hopefully with a renewed sense of purpose, new skills and a network of friends, taking home more then what they came with.

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