First Nation Development Futures in Australia: Risks, Opportunities and Self-Determined Innovations

Recording available here.



All development involves change—by its nature it is experimental and unsettling. This means the collective decisions of First Nations about future development are both brave and risky. In 1986 — twenty years before its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Right to Development. In that early declaration, the UN defined ‘development’ as:

… a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom.

More recently, a global Indigenous debate has questioned the concept’s colonial legacies and implicit acceptance of particular kinds of economic growth at the expense of local cultural, social and economic priorities. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples has accordingly reframed development as being ‘development with culture and identity’ (UNPFII 2016), arguing that:

There needs to be a concept of development with culture and identity that reflects indigenous peoples’ own visions, perspectives as well as strategies that respect their individual and collective rights, are self-determining, sensitive and relevant to their situation and communities.

Indigenous peoples want development with culture and identity where their rights are no longer violated, where they are not discriminated against, excluded or marginalized and where their free, prior and informed consent is obtained before projects and policies affecting them are made and equitable benefit-sharing is recognized and operationalized.

What does development with culture and identity mean for First Nations today? Who gets to make the decisions? Who gets to benefit? How are implementation and outcomes monitored? What does this mean for policy, and for making research count?

We have three well-known Indigenous leaders with deep experience and practical understanding, coming together in a panel conversation for our first CAEPR seminar for 2023.

Prof Val Cooms, Mr Jamie Lowe and Mr Kevin Smith will each address the big and small issues and the risks and challenges being faced today, and the opportunities and innovations taking place as First Nations around Australia seek to leverage their rights and recognition to deliver substantive development outcomes for their families and future generations.

About the speakers

​Professor Valerie Cooms belongs to the Nunukul people of Minjerribah or North Stradbroke Island in south-east Queensland. Valerie's professional, political, policy and research experience is wide and deep. She has worked in government for many years, including in the management of the RCIADIC back in the late 1990s. Valerie was appointed the CEO of Queensland South Native Title Services, and then in 2019 appointed as a Member of the National Native Title Tribunal. She has previously served as a Director of Indigenous Business Australia, as the Director and Chairperson of the Aboriginal and Islander Independent School in Brisbane, as Director of Aboriginal Hostels, and is currently Chair of the Quandamooka Registered Native Title Body Corporate. Valerie has a PhD in History from the ANU and a long academic career including being Adjunct Prof and lecturing at Griffith University, and undertaking a Research Fellowship in Native Title at AIATSIS. Valerie is the Director of CAEPR and is currently developing a new strategic plan for the Centre.

Jamie Lowe has is a Gundjitmara Djabwurrung man with deep experience in First Nations rights and the practicalities of getting development happening. He was previously CEO of the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation in South Western Victoria, when their Nation was recognised as being Native Title Holders in 2011. He joined the National Native Title Council (NNTC) as Chair in 2017. Then two years later, was appointed CEO, charged with supporting First Nation’s people’s right to self-determination and governance over their own Country and development. In July 2018 Jamie joined the Victorian Heritage Council as an Indigenous Specialist Representative, and in 2021 he was appointed as the Indigenous Specialist Representative for the Australian Heritage Council – the principal adviser to the Australian Government on heritage matters. Internationally, Jamie is the NNTC representative on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Kevin Smith holds traditional connections to Ugar (Stephen Island) and Erub (Darnley Island) in the Torres Strait, and has over 28 years of professional experience in Indigenous affairs. He has held senior positions with the National Secretariat of Torres Strait Islander Organisations, the Brisbane Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, the National Native Title Tribunal, Aboriginal Hostels Limited and the National Native Title Council. Kevin has filled the role of Chief Executive Officer of Queensland South Native Title Services (QSNTS) since 2008. He holds qualifications in both law and business management from the University of Queensland, and was admitted as a solicitor in 1994.


First Nation Development Futures in Australia: Risks, Opportunities and Self-Determined Innovations

Date & time

Wed 08 Mar 2023, 12–1.30pm



Prof Valerie Cooms
Kevin Smith
Jamie Lowe


Tracy Deasey


Updated:  15 June 2023/Responsible Officer:  Centre Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications