Participation in Aboriginal policy making: A case study in Walgett, New South Wales

Wednesday, 22 March 2017
Dr Inara Walden

If Indigenous disadvantage has come about as a direct result of colonisation, dispossession and institutionalised racism then re-empowering Aboriginal people via real opportunities to participate in policy decision-making is vital. Participation is essential to redressing past and ongoing injustices, overcoming disadvantage and allowing Aboriginal people to envisage brighter futures in which community driven aspirations can be fulfilled. 

My PhD involved a multi-year case study of a remote New South Wales Aboriginal community’s involvement as a priority community in the Council Of Australian Government’s Remote Service Delivery (RSD) National Partnership Agreement. Whilst the outcomes RSD delivered for the community were disappointing, the research revealed transformative potential for community healing and innovation in policymaking that may be achieved when the participation is enabled. 

I distinguish ‘participation’ from ‘engagement’, the preferred term used in Australia by governments, policy makers and researchers. There are clear differences between emphasising engagement and the intention of the internationally recognised Indigenous right of participation. The right of participation in decision-making has been recognised in The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Commonwealth and State Governments must now urgently recognise and enable Aboriginal peoples’ desire for control over their own futures.