New and emerging challenges for Native Title Representative Bodies

Author/editor: Finlayson, J
Year published: 1998
Issue no.: 167


The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) currently funds a total of 25 Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) nation wide. These bodies are the primary means of delivering services to Indigenous claimants seeking determinations of native title rights. The present ATSIC Board of Commissioners have agreed to an increased funding allocation to native title matters in the 1998/99 budget. This means that the Native Title Program will receive a total allocation of $47.155, million elevating it's significance considerably within ATSIC's funding and administration.

However, while the increased funding commitment recognises the importance of land rights issues for the Indigenous constituency, ATSIC, the National Native Title Tribunal and some Aboriginal groups are concerned about the capabilities of some NTRBs to provide a professional, viable and competent service in an increasingly complex legislative and legal domain.

The argument of this paper is that the 1995 ATSIC Review of NTRBs provided a window of opportunity for establishing sound administrative praxis for NTRBs, but their recommendations were only adopted to a limited extent. However, ATSIC has also implemented a number of strategies, including performance monitoring and reporting, training and education, peer reviews and recently, service agreements to improve and support NTRB organisations. Unfortunately, as in the past, many of these mechanisms have had limited success in leading to organisational change. Why is this?

The paper suggests that, by and large, Indigenous organisations operate through exclusively Indigenous concepts of process, accountability and ideas of communal good, and that these concepts often diverge from external, non-Indigenous views of process. An additional limitation is that self-determination often forms the prevailing context of administration and management at many levels of Indigenous governance and decision-making.

In the author's view, a radical change in organisational culture is ultimately only possible through the exercise of the political will of the ATSIC Board as a top-down approach, coupled with ancillary support strategies, such as monitoring and reporting mechanisms, organisational reviews and other options ATSIC program administrators can provide. The solution to effective service delivery lies, in part, in ensuring that Indigenous organisational and management principles are inclusive of mainstream management expectations which relate to accountability and notions about 'the greater good'.

ISBN: 0 7315 2602 3

ISSN:1036 1774

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