The Bennelong Group by Jim Petrich

Jim Petrich is an old fashioned mover and shaker. In this short paper Jim describes "The Bennelong Group" - a fabled moment in time when leaders worked together for the national good across the political divides.

“Who would have thought that you could get leading figures from the far right of Australian politics endorsing a set of principles which included the establishment of a long-term capital base for indigenous people and their support for a domestic treaty to be put to a referendum? The Bennelong Process allowed both sides, for a brief time, to explore common ground with clear eyes.”

Noel Pearson on the Bennelong Group

Pat Dodson paid tribute to Ian Tuxworth's role in the Bennelong Group here:

The Bennelong group was a fabled Camelot like entity from the 1990s. It had a mythic status and was largely driven by an extraordinary individual, Ron Castan, QC.  But there was a formula that could be revived on any number of major issues at any time.

What were the ingredients that made the Bennelong Group work:

  1. Dynamic engagement by key players on issues and problems that needed urgent solutions. For example the backdrop for Bennelong was the  “Cape York Heads of Agreement on Land Use” a working agreement between pastoralists, Aboriginal communities and environmentalists on  Australia’s largest and least disturbed wilderness in Australia. The Wik case was before the High  Court.

  2. A passionate and committed mover and shaker who all parties respected in the case of Bennelong it was Ron Castan, QC.

  3. Leaders who were willing to listen and work together on solutions across the political divides.

  4. Organisers with the capacity to bring people together in the case of Bennelong it was Ian Tuxworth and Jim Petrich on the conservative side and Ron Castan marshalled the Indigenous leaders and Michael Costello also played a role.

  5. An engaging paper with vital issues and problems that needed solutions from a major and influential person. This was initially Ian Tuxworth’s paper on Aboriginal Land Rights. Note Ian was an unexpected figure to produce such a paper and to move the agenda along in a progressive and constructive fashion. So it gave people something to get their teeth into.

  6. The capacity and willingness to work on regardless of the mainstream political leaders day to day agendas and priorities.

We should also recognise the frailty of such processes. Ron Castan QCs untimely death meant that there was no-one willing to continue to fund and advocate the group in a way that engaged all parties. Finally John Howard’s ten point plan on Wik basically made all of the constructive dialogue redundant in direct political terms.

The question that has been posed many times since is: how can a similar constructive dialogue occur between all sides of politics on issues that matter:

  • an Australian Head of State,

  • important Referendums that must be successful such as the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty

  • the rigidity of the Australian constitution,

  • the future Australian  energy network,

  • immigration and population movements around the world and the fluidity of national borders,

  • the constitutional recognition of local government as a means of bringing governance in several arenas closer to communities,

  • the redundancy of many State laws and functions

For those of us on the under side of politics moments like Bennelong are all too rare but they need not be. Most of all we cannot let these break through moments be forgotten. They are an inspiration to us all in a challenging world.


Jim Petrich can be reached for comment here:

PO Box 130 Yungaburra, Q  4884

61 [0] 409 257111

Download Jim's paper by clicking on the link below.