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The Senior Executive Board (SEB) ensures the transition of Council directives through to the business plans of AIATSIS programs. The Council appointed Chief Executive Officer is responsible for the organisation’s performance and advises the Council on all operational matters. Executive staff assist the Council, liaise with AIATSIS membership and develop the organisation’s public profile.

  • Craig Ritchie – Chief Executive Officer

    Craig Ritchie is an Aboriginal man of the Dhunghutti and Biripi nations and is the Chief Executive Officer at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). Prior to coming to AIATSIS he was Branch Manager, International Mobility in the Australian Government Department of Education and Training. In this role he was the senior departmental executive responsible for the Australian Government’s Endeavour Awards, which support international student and researcher mobility, and policy leadership on qualifications recognition. He was the Departmental lead on the Australian Government’s education relationships in America, the Middle East and Africa, along with APEC and UNESCO.

    From late 2011 to mid-2015 he was the Branch Manager of the Access and Participation Branch in the Higher Education Reform Group, of the Department of Education where he led two major systemic reform initiatives in higher education: the first in reframing the national approach to widening participation policy and programs in higher education; the second in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education through the implementation of the findings of the landmark Review of Access and Outcomes in Higher Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People (the Behrendt Review).

    Born and raised in rural New South Wales he was the first in his family to go to University. From 1984-88 he was a student at the University of Newcastle where he studied Classics, History and English with Education and Drama thrown in! After graduation he taught secondary English and History in Gosford for seven years before joining the staff of the AWABAKAL Newcastle Aboriginal Co-operative in April 1996.

    At AWABAKAL Craig led a process of organisational development issuing in the development of AWABAKAL first Corporate Plan. He was responsible for the operations of the AWABAKAL Aboriginal Medical Service that provided comprehensive primary health care, in a community-controlled model, to Aboriginal communities from Murrurundi to Wyong and north to Nelson Bay. It was under Craig’s leadership that the first Hunter Area Aboriginal Health Partnership Agreement was negotiated between the Aboriginal Medical Service and the Hunter Area Health Service.

    From 1999-2002 Craig was Chief Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) - the peak advocacy body for Aboriginal community controlled health services. In late 2002 he moved from the community sector to the public service as Manager, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Policy for ACT Health where he established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Unit and led the development of the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Family Wellbeing Plan, a blue print for wellbeing focussed whole of Government action in the ACT. In February 2010 he took up the position of Assistant Secretary, Remote Health Services Development Branch in the Department of Health and Ageing where he was responsible of a program of primary health care reform for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

    As a senior Public Servant Craig has had responsibility for major systemic reform initiatives including remote primary health care service delivery, place-based community development through the Remote Service Delivery National Partnership. He is one of a small cohort of Indigenous public servants who provide significant leadership in the broader whole-of-government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs particularly as a member of the Commonwealth Indigenous Reform Group.

    Craig was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2006 to research models Indigenous of leadership in the USA and Canada.  He has post-graduate qualifications in Management and is a PhD scholar at the University of Sydney where he is researching the implications of Aboriginal culture for public policy development and implementation. He holds adjunct appointments at the University of Sydney (Health Sciences) and the University of Technology Sydney (Indigenous Research).

  • Leonard Hill – Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer

    Leonard is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), a role he has occupied since April 2021. Leonard has held a number of other Senior Executive Service (SES) Officer roles including Executive Director, Collections Services Group at AIATSIS between September 2018 and April 2021, and with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as the Assistant Secretary, Culture Branch from February 2016 – September 2018.

    Leonard is a descendent of the Ngemba people from North West NSW.  He draws his Indigenous heritage from his mother who was born and raised in Brewarrina in North Western NSW, and who spent her childhood living on the Aboriginal Mission in Brewarrina until her early teens.

    Leonard has worked in the Indigenous Affairs space since the early 1990’s in a number of roles across the Australian Government, NSW State Government, as well as local Aboriginal Community Organisations. Some of these roles include Indigenous Coordination Centre (ICC) Manager and Deputy Manager roles in a number of ICC’s across NSW; Indigenous Education Manager (DEST); TAFE NSW Campus Manager at a number of NSW TAFE Campuses including the Eora Centre for Indigenous Performing Arts in Redfern; an Aboriginal Enterprise Development Officer with the NSW Government; and the Assistant Manager of a CDEP in Brewarrina.

    Leonard has been involved in and led a number of Australian Government Delegations on International engagements including to Mexico, New Zealand, Vietnam, USA and the United Nations.  In July 2018, Leonard led the Australian Delegation to the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous peoples (UN EMRIP) in Geneva and spoke on behalf of the Australian Government on a number of topics at this event. Leonard also lead an AIATSIS delegation to Mexico in September 2019 to discuss Indigenous Policy and culture as it relates to National cultural and collecting Institutions.

    Leonard holds vocational qualifications in Small Business Management, Indigenous Land Management and Training and Assessment, as well as Post Graduate qualifications in Business Administration.

  • Dr Caroline Hughes – Executive Director, Collection Services

    Dr Caroline Hughes is a proud Ngunnawal woman and the Executive Director, Collections Services Group. She has made significant contributions to the field of education throughout her career, which spans over 30 years. She came to AIATSIS from the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) where she was the Director of the CIT Yurauna Centre of Educational Excellence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. 

    Aunty Caroline empowers others to achieve their dreams through the power of education and employment. As practitioner, manager and leader of VET programs in community development and client support services she ensured that cultural heritage has been the essence of all. Caroline has led the design and delivery of cultural programs that have strengthened the cultural capability of individuals and teams across organisations - within government and private sectors. Aunty Caroline grew partnerships and improved engagement with governments, private sector and community to improve business outcomes as well as increased the commercial income to support profitable operations and outcomes. Her leadership has contributed to policies, strategies, compliance and business acumen.

    Under Aunty Caroline’s leadership she established long standing respectful partnerships that were formed with Indigenous culture at the foremost of all activities, an example is the establishment of an Early Learning Centre in partnership with Northside Community Services – winning national awards in the early child care sector. These initiatives reduced barriers to education for parents and caregivers to improve employment outcomes.

    Aunty Caroline has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of University of Canberra, a Bachelor Adult Education as well as Graduate Certificate in Leadership & Management and Graduate Certificate Leadership in the VET Sector.

    At AIATSIS Caroline plays a leadership role ensuring that the institute is a responsible custodian of all items held in the unique and diverse AIATSIS Collection, guiding the strategic management and long-term safekeeping of all materials held in it.

    Caroline was shortlisted as a nominee for 2021 ACT Australian of the Year and was a recipient of the ACT Women’s Honour Role in 2018. 

  • Ben Phelps – Executive Director, Partnerships and Engagement

    Ben is the Executive Director of the Partnerships and Engagement Group at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), a role he has occupied since June 2021. Ben joined AIATSIS from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (DITRDC) where he was the Assistant Secretary (SES1) for the Content and Copyright Branch, Office of the Arts (OFTA). In this role, Ben was responsible for policies that incentivised and regulated the creation, production, distribution, promotion and protection of Australian stories across multiple platforms - TV, film, advertising, literature, news, music, social media and art.  
    Prior to re-joining the Australian Public Service (APS), Ben spent over 15 years working in leadership roles spanning policy, strategy, compliance and content production in the commercial television industry, the Attorney-General's Department, Department of Communications and the Arts and private legal practice. 
    Across the private and public sectors, Ben has led media reforms for the production of Australian TV and films, modernisation of copyright access laws for the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector, review of the National Classification Scheme, digital transformations in the Video-on-Demand (VOD) industry and contemporary protections for authentic Indigenous artwork.  
    Ben holds a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Laws, Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (ACT and NSW) and Masters of Media and Arts Production.

  • Kate Thomann – Executive Director, Research and Education

    Kate is a proud Wiradjuri woman with over 28 years’ experience working in Indigenous affairs in the Australian Public Service. She has extensive experience in policy development and program delivery across a wide range of portfolio areas including Prime Minister and Cabinet; Health; Environment; Communications; Education; Arts and Culture; and Aboriginal Hostels. 

    Kate is also a former Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Indigenous Doctor’s Association.

    Kate has managed various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy and program areas such as primary health care; health research; Stolen Generations and bringing them home; social and emotional well-being and mental health; substance use including volatile substance use and petrol sniffing; and Indigenous broadcasting, languages and culture. She has managed the secretariat functions for a variety of Indigenous ministerial advisory committees in Indigenous affairs, health and the environment. 

    Kate has an ongoing commitment to her professional and personal development as an Indigenous leader in the public sector. She completed the ANZSOG Toward Strategic Leadership Program and the inaugural Australian Indigenous Leadership Program through the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre. She has also completed the prestigious INSEAD International Business School’s Leading for Results Program, in Singapore, through a scholarship from the Roberta Sykes Foundation and Chief Executive Women. 

    Kate holds a Bachelor of Arts (Archaeology and Anthropology) from the Australian National University and a Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Heritage and Culture from Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga.

Chief Executive Officers and Principals

Chief Executive Officers

  • Mr Craig Ritchie 2016 - present
  • Mr Russell Taylor 2015 - 2016


  • Mr Russell Taylor, 2009 - 2015
  • Mr Steve Larkin, 2004 - 2008
  • Mr Russell Taylor, 1997 - 2003
  • Mr Peter Daffen, 1996 Oct - Dec
  • Dr William (Bill) Jonas, 1991 - 1996
  • Mr Warwick Dix, 1985 - 1991
  • Mr Eric Willmot, 1981 - 1984
  • Dr Peter Ucko, 1972 - 1980
  • Mr Frederick McCarthy, 1964 - 1972
Last updated: 28 July 2022