Maximum Participation?

When the Federal Government abolished ATSIC, it promised a revolution in Indigenous affairs. The ATSI Social Justice Commissionr, Tom Calma, has been monitoring the results of these ‘new arrangements’. The latest report, Social Justice 2006, is not a glowing recommendation and identifies within it many of the serious shortcomings that were to become major flaws in the NT response. The criticisms are especially notable as this was the proclaimed aim of the new arrangements,

to ensure maximum participation of Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders in the formulation and implementation of government policies that affect them


The Commissioners’ Press Club appearance noting the Governments’ response to the report is also worth a read.

Here are a few relevant excerpts from Social Justice 2006,

The ‘new broom’ that has been introduced through the new arrangements to date has been a process broom. This has both exaggerated the role of process as a cause of Indigenous disadvantage, and resulted in other key issues not receiving the priority attention they deserved…………

The vacuum at the national and regional levels of Indigenous representative input is now serious. Without that Indigenous input, I am concerned that the mistakes of the past will be repeated, or the wrong lessons learned.

Unless there is a re-engagement with Indigenous Australians on the basis of mutual respect and equality, with clear processes and certainty of structures for Indigenous representation and advocacy, it remains uncertain whether the new arrangements can produce tangible, significant and lasting benefits rather than amounting to little more than an administratively complex repackaging of existing programs.

Chapter 3 details the near total failure in implementing the new processes,

Various community members noted that the process of negotiating an RIEA [Regional Indigenous Engagement Arrangements – consultative process intended to replace ATSIC functions] had not progressed due to a lack of communication from the OIPC and ICC, with the proponents not hearing from the local ICC regarding their proposal, no financial support from any level of government to facilitate progressing the proposal, lack of communication on the proposal between the state or territory government and the federal government, and/ or a lack of support for the proposal by the state or territory government.




It is difficult for Indigenous communities to deal with the volume of changes, agencies and requirements under the new arrangements and the increasing entanglements of red tape. There is a need to support authentic and credible structures and processes for Indigenous communities that allow them to engage with governments, be consulted, and where appropriate, provide informed consent.

In my view the government has adopted a cynical and disingenuous approach in which the apparatus of the new arrangements play no active role in engaging with Indigenous peoples on a systemic basis to ensure that mechanisms for Indigenous participation can become a reality.


In summation,

Two years on from this statement, it is now clear that the new arrangements are fundamentally flawed and do not ensure the effective participation of Indigenous peoples in decision making that affects our daily lives.


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