Towards an Indigenous order of Australian government: Rethinking self-determination as Indigenous affairs policy

Author/editor: Sanders, WG
Year published: 2002
Issue no.: 230


This paper begins with a historical analysis of both the rhetoric and the institutions of Australian Indigenous affairs since self-determination was first adopted as Commonwealth government policy in late 1972. It then moves on to conceive of these institutional developments, following Rowse, as the emergence of an Indigenous organisational sector. This terminology is, the paper argues, very useful both in tying together diverse institutional developments and in progressing debates about issues of representation and the role therein of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and other Indigenous organisations. The language of the Indigenous sector does, however, also have its limitations. It portrays Indigenous interests as comparable with those of other groups who enjoy a corporatist-style relationship with government, such as industry bodies and trade unions. The ultimate strength of Indigenous peoples' political claims lies, however, in their being seen as quite different from those other interests; as being those of 'peoples' or 'nations' who pre-existed the encompassing society and who still, to some extent, form separate communities and political entities within that society.

The latter half of the paper introduces the idea, following the example of Canada, of Indigenous peoples' organisations and their processes of representation as constituting an Indigenous order of Australian government. It is argued that this is perhaps the only philosophically coherent and historically realistic approach to future Indigenous affairs policy. It is also argued that this rethought approach has a number of clear policy implications, both practical and more theoretical. One practical implication is that calls for more ongoing guaranteed financing of Indigenous peoples' organisations should be seen as more reasonable and less exceptional. Another is that accountability processes and representation issues should be seen as matters for consideration within the Indigenous order, as well as being issues between Indigenous peoples' organisations and State or Territory and Commonwealth governments. A more theoretical policy implication is that calls for a treaty from Indigenous Australians should be treated as both well-founded and appropriate.

The paper concludes by reiterating that both 'self-determination' and 'an Indigenous order of Australian government' are indeed appropriate key terms for Australian Indigenous affairs policy in the twenty-first century. With the demise of European imperialism, Australia's Indigenous minorities deserve a path to decolonisation as much as do Indigenous majorities elsewhere.

ISBN: 0 7315 5065 4

ISSN:1036 1774

Updated:  21 May 2009/Responsible Officer:  Centre Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications