Indigenous futures and sustainable development in north Australia: Towards a framework for full Indigenous participation in economic development

Indigenous futures and sustainable development in north Australia: Towards a framework for full Indigenous participation in economic development Report

Discussion Paper

  • Author(s): Peter Whitehead, NAILSMA North Australian Indigenous Experts Panel
  • Published: 2013
  • Publisher: North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd (NAILSMA)

Abstract: This Discussion Paper was prepared as part of the background briefing for the North Australian Indigenous Experts Forum, held in at Mary River NT, June 2012 to stimulate and focus discussion at the Forum. It is based on results of preliminary meetings of the Indigenous Experts Panel and consultations with the Northern Australia Ministerial Forum. It also builds on the work of the 2009 Indigenous Experts Water Futures Forum who set down the Mary River Principles for resource management, and the 2012 National Indigenous Sea Country Workshop which reiterated those principles and their application to the management of marine resources. A key component of those principles is to ensure that the Indigenous owners of north Australia have access to the resources needed to participate equitably in the 'development of policies, setting and allocations and management of regulatory schemes'. Australia has yet to come to terms with a new northern reality; in which Indigenous people are major landholders; make up most of the population outside larger centres; have long standing connections, strong views; and well considered plans for appropriate northern development. Indigenous futures are inextricably linked to sustainable northern development. So Indigenous people must sit at the centre of decision-making structures and processes. Indigenous interests and the interests of the wider Australian society are not inherently in conflict. But achieving more benefits than costs from northern development for the north's Indigenous people will not happen by default. Better Indigenous futures will require comprehensive and considered responses to the principal drivers of change and the opportunities and challenges they create. The Indigenous Experts Panel has commissioned this paper to stimulate and focus discussion at the first North Australian Indigenous Experts Forum on Sustainable Economic Development (Indigenous Experts Forum) to be held at the Mary River from 19-21 June 2012. The paper is based on results of preliminary meetings of the Indigenous Experts Panel and consultations with the Northern Australia Ministerial Forum (Ministerial Forum). It also builds on the work of the 2009 Indigenous Experts Water Futures Forum who set down the Mary River Principles for resource management, and the 2012 National Indigenous Sea Country Workshop which reiterated those principles and their application to management of marine resources. A key component of those principles is to ensure that the Indigenous owners of northern Australia have access to the resources needed to participate equitably in the "development of policies, setting of allocations and management of regulatory schemes". The Ministerial Forum and the Indigenous Experts Forum offer a unique opportunity to embed those principles in design of strategies for northern development and associated government programs. Outcomes from this forum and others to follow will inform the Australian, Western Australian, Queensland and Northern Territory governments about Indigenous goals for northern development. The Forums will establish an Indigenous agenda for delivering socio-economic benefits to Indigenous north Australians, while also ensuring that important natural and cultural values are protected or enhanced. Participants will construct a framework for ongoing interaction with governments. The Indigenous Experts Panel does not wish to pre-empt conclusions and recommendations that might emerge from the forum, but has identified a number of key questions: (1) what will northern development need to deliver if it is to meet the reasonable expectations of the region's Indigenous people? (2) how can we construct a framework to encompass Indigenous socioeconomic, cultural and environmental goals and principles that underpin them to improve shared understanding? (3) how do we formalise future interactions with government, ensuring that Indigenous perspectives strongly inform and powerfully influence all government decision-making on northern development now and into the future? (4) drawing on that framework, can we see gaps or deficiencies in the priorities so far put by governments for investments in northern development? and (5) what are priorities for policy change to correct those deficiencies and meet Indigenous needs?

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Suggested Citation
Peter Whitehead, NAILSMA North Australian Indigenous Experts Panel, 2013, Indigenous futures and sustainable development in north Australia: Towards a framework for full Indigenous participation in economic development, Report, viewed 10 August 2022, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=3155.

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