For the first time in New South Wales history, the Parliament has introduced the role of Aboriginal Liaison Officer (ALO) which will be filled by Pitta Pitta man Steven Collins.
Originally from Queensland, Collins brings a lot to NSW Parliament — a wealth of experience in Aboriginal affairs, a can-do attitude and the ability to spin a good yarn.
“This is a very meaningful appointment and a position we have wanted to have at the Parliament for a number of years. Steven will be a great addition to the Parliament of NSW as our first Aboriginal Liaison Officer,” said President of the NSW Legislative Council, John Ajaka.
“This is an important step forward for the Parliament of NSW and Aboriginal communities.”
Collins grew up in Rockhampton, his mother was a single mum, his sister lived with disability and his grandmother, who passed while he was young, was a Stolen Generations survivor.
“I always grew up knowing I was Aboriginal, but I grew up disconnected to culture,” said Collins.
“My mother had a lot of trauma in her life that was passed down from her mother. From early on I knew I had to look for opportunities that would help me better support my mother, my sister and myself.”
Collins left school and worked in customer services in the Queensland transport sector. He stumbled into policy accidentally, applying for an expression of interest for a cabinet policy officer role.
The decision to apply eventually landed him working for the Minister for Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.
“Having that ability to be at the forefront of change and have real impact on people … People would come to the office when they were at their wits end,” said Collins.
“I understood that with my mother and my sister — all families wanted was that hour respite a week.”
After the Liberal National Party won the 2012 Queensland election, Collins relocated to Sydney and began working with the Ministry of Health. Not long after, he became the Aboriginal Advisor to former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Leslie Williams.
“I took that as I wanted to learn more, connect more and be able to directly help. It was phenomenal the amount of people I met,” said Collins.
“I was so welcomed. They got me, they knew where I came from and they supported that. It helped me start to understand where I came from … and start to understand things like my mother’s trauma, my grandmother’s trauma.”
Before stepping into the ALO role, Collins spent two years at the NSW Public Service Commission on Everyone’s Business, an online training platform scheduled to be rolled out in late 2021 sharing the lived experiences of Stolen Generations survivors.
Despite building the project from scratch, Collins walked away before it was complete.
“It was a phenomenal project to lead for two years, but I did have to walk away. It was causing me a lot of trauma. It was so hard to walk away because I was so very culturally connected to it,” said Collins.
“I wasn’t being honest with myself on how it was affecting me, I just wanted to get it done … the ALO came up and I knew it was the right time to step back. I had to focus on my own healing.
“Leading that work has really shown me the power and importance of truth-telling. You can never underestimate the power of hearing directly from a Stolen Generations survivor.”
Collins himself was instrumental in the design and creation of his new role.
“This role exists in Queensland, it’s been in place since 2008 and I was exposed to that due to my previous work and saw the value of it,” he said.
“I’m here to support all elected officials, my role is very neutral. I am here to give advice, help broker those relationships with community.
“You can’t underestimate the power of this role, having someone mob can call and just have a yarn.”
Despite his ambition, Collins is aware of the immense responsibility he takes on.
“I am one person. Do I feel the weight of this position? Of course I do, that’s the nature of it,” he said.
“We may sit on Gadigal Country, but Parliament represents all of our state. It needs to be welcoming for all Aboriginal people.”
Armed with passion for his community, Collins is dedicated and ready to deliver for mob in NSW.
“One thing that resonates with me when I talk to Aboriginal people, and even in myself, it’s that question, ‘How do we give back to mob?’” he said.
“Every position I look for, every role I’ve had, has always been about how I can give back. Originally it was about how I gave back to my mother and sister, and now its broader than that — how do I give back to mob?
“I hope that in this role, I can really do that.”
By Rachael Knowles