Key research areas

The Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) Research Plan 2017-2019 is organised around seven themes:

  • Indigenous-driven development

  •  Land, water and livelihoods

  •  Education and learning in dynamic societies

  •  Work, production and economy

  •  Governance, policy and the state

  •  Health, wellbeing and sociocultural change

  • Demography of Indigenous peoples


Theme 1. Indigenous-Driven Development

Research in this area seeks to understand the nature of development that Indigenous people aspire to and how they are working to achieve it. In particular it explores how Aboriginal organisations and communities can build on their diverse assets and develop the capacities to attain the social, cultural, and economic outcomes they want – that is, it seeks to understand development which is led by Indigenous people rather than driven by external players such as governments and private companies. It explores the philosophical underpinnings of diverse Indigenous approaches to development, as well as the methods and approaches that can facilitate and support such development. It tries to understand the internal and external factors that foster and encourage Indigenous-led development as well as those policies and factors which impede it. It pays attention to how Indigenous people and their organisations tackle problems in their communities in ways that are meaningful and effective for them.

Current CAEPR projects in this area include:

  • The effects of the NPM era on Aboriginal organisations in NSW

  • Urban Indigenous peoples as agents and leaders of Indigenous social and economic development – international comparative work with urban case studies

  • Success in Aboriginal development

  • Development with a difference

  • Aboriginal community development in Central Australia

  • Living well and local conceptions of development in the Torres Strait

  • The architecture of Indigenous prosperity: social innovation, the co-creation of policy, and economic decolonisation in Australia and Canada

  • Good practice in Indigenous-led violence against women interventions

  • The intersection between complexity theory and indigenous development


Theme 2. Land, Water and Livelihoods

This theme explores the engagement of Indigenous peoples across the continent with their lands and waters. A particular focus is on ways to protect and enhance improve livelihood opportunities for Indigenous peoples (e.g. fisheries management, biodiversity surveys, savanna burning, carbon sequestration, diversified/mixed pastoral management activities, environmental stewardship arrangements) that fulfil community development aspirations.

Current CAEPR projects in this area include:

  • Seachange: Aboriginal marine pathways to social inclusion

  • Re-visioning north Australian development: challenges and opportunities for building resilient remote communities

  • Energy justice and energy insecurity in remote Indigenous communities in Canada and Australia

  • Emerging strategic issues in native title: future political and policy challenges

Theme 3. Education and Learning in Dynamic Societies

This theme draws together various elements of education and learning research undertaken at CAEPR. While some research focuses on how children acquire understandings of Indigenous society in mainstream schools, other research looks specifically at Learning on Country programs in Indigenous education. This theme also seeks to broaden our understanding of learning by looking beyond school with a focus on informal learning in Indigenous settings in Australia and internationally. Learning also takes place through the resources provided in education, hence the development of the Second Edition of the Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia is located within this theme.

Current CAEPR projects in this area include:

  • Informal learning and multimodal literacies: ethnographic explorations

  • 2nd Edition of the Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia

  • Learning on Country II

  • ABSTUDY and Independent Schools

  • Utopia schools: Enhancing the ‘Family Engagement and Literature (Ingkerrenhek mpwaretyek Piprnem mpwaretyek)’ and ‘Country in Curriculum (Akalty-antheyel pwetyitwek)’ projects

  • Indigenous Population Project

  • Evaluation of Narragunnawali, reconciliation in schools and early learning services

  • Children’s participation in reconciliation: good intentions with unintended consequences

  • Reframing from charity to clarity: adopting a normative and empirical approach to improve philanthropic investment in Indigenous education through complexity and emergence, collective impact, Indigenous wholechild and place-based thinking and inter-action

  • Beyond Black and White: exploring threshold concepts in first year Australian Indigenous Studies to enhance student learning and curriculum design


Theme 4. Work, Production and Economy

Projects in this theme analyse current economic trends (such as employment and economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) as well as exploring broader conceptual issues such as the nature of work and other production processes. How people understand work, and evaluate its costs and benefits, are influenced by a multitude of factors. For some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people this includes the interaction of paid employment with complex extended kinship networks inside fluid, porous and dynamic households. Indigenous businesses and social enterprise often balance commercial objectives with community development and broader concepts of wellbeing. All of these complexities have implications for public policies and programs aimed at improving economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and suggest the need for economic development opportunities that acknowledge the diversity of Indigenous aspirations. This theme explores these issues along with detailed analysis of the design, delivery and outcomes of public policy aimed at economic development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Current CAEPR projects in this area include:

  • Indigenous Population Project

  • Occupational mobility

  • Caring and the labour market, 2006–2011

  • Dynamics of the Indigenous labour market revisited

  • Diffusion and anti-diffusion of internet access, 2006–2011

  • International sustainable development network

  • Indigenous-friendly businesses and facilitating Indigenous businesses

  • Indigenous economics

  • Economic prosperity in Aboriginal communities in New South Wales

  • Outcomes for First Nations in South Australia’s economic downturn

  • Innovation in Indigenous Australia

  • Indigenous public sector representation

  • A living wage, the evolution and future of the Australian minimum wage, child endowment, and taxation treatment of families

  • Country, culture and economy: Looking after Country and economic participation in remote Indigenous Australia


Theme 5. Governance, Policy and the State

Public policy that relates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is characterised by a vast array of activity at all three levels of government, plus the activities of Indigenous organisations and other non government organisations (NGOs). This research theme aims to discern patterns within this vast array of activity, such as principles which compete in guiding policy or patterns of intergovernmental conflict and cooperation. A significant portion of the work examines the operation and impact of public policy from the local level, through working either with local governments or with Indigenous organisations and other NGOs involved in community development as well as service delivery. Relations between this local level of activity and super-ordinate levels of government, such as accountability and responsiveness to emergent practice, are another important focus. Research projects in this theme also examine the outcomes of changing government policies and analyse the processes through which these policies are made.

Current CAEPR projects in this area include:

  • Reconciling rival visions of Indigenous development

  • The promise and peril of using randomised control trials to evaluate social programs for Indigenous Australians

  • The political philosophy of welfare conditionality

  • Agreement-making and Aboriginal economic development in New South Wales

  • Reforms to the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Rights Act: did it improve the capacity of the Act to achieve its dual – economic and cultural – purpose?

  • Indigenous justice symposium: ‘Broken Justice’

  • Reciprocal accountability and public value in Aboriginal organisations

  • Partnerships for selfdetermined development

  • McArthur River Mine Community Benefits Trust

  • Cultures of work and achievement among Indigenous professionals

  • Implementing the Remote Jobs and Communities Programme (now Community Development Programme): is policy working in Indigenous communities?

  • Indigenous people and remote-area local government in the Northern Territory: can regional upscaling retain localism?

  • Australian Indigenous policy: developments and dilemmas

  • Governance, cultural competence and Free, Prior and Informed Consent

  • Remote Indigenous policy: what should we learn from the Northern Territory intervention?

  • Human rights in Aboriginal Central Australia: politics, power and personhood

  • The underlying foundations of Indigenous disadvantage in Australia

  • The success of the Indigenous Protected Areas Program: foundations and threats

  • Beyond levers, sticks and carrots: exploring school attendance by Indigenous primary school students in remote areas

  • Indigenous public policy making


Theme 6. Health, Wellbeing and Sociocultural change

Research in this area at CAEPR seeks to encompass a broad range of themes relating to health, wellbeing and sociocultural change. It is particularly focused on multi-disciplinary, mixed method social science perspectives of health and wellbeing. Research under this theme looks at policy, program development and service provision in remote communities around Australia, as well as in regional and urban areas, with a particular focus on alcohol, substance use, and gambling issues. CAEPR also has specific expertise in the development of indexes to measure socioeconomic outcomes and wellbeing in Indigenous communities, as well as analysis relating to health and wellbeing on large scale longitudinal studies. This theme also encompasses research on issues facing Indigenous Australians such as racism and discrimination. Evaluating programs that focus on Indigenous health, wellbeing and sociocultural change is also a priority focus of this theme, and especially programs focused on gender and family violence.

Current CAEPR projects in this area include:

  • Warngkurla

  • Housing tenure among Indigenous Australians: how is it changing, where and why?

  • Indigenous Population Project

  • Location, life circumstances and Indigenous suicide: a preliminary review

  • Characterisation of fermentation practices of Australian Aborigines

  • Teaching ‘civilised’ drinking? Clubs and pubs in Indigenous Australia

  • ‘Tjukurpa Pulka’ The road to Eldership: how sacred and visionary Elders lead community transformation

  • How do Indigenous communities manage risk, resilience and protective factors to improve community safety?

  • The moral economy of dialysis: Indigenous people, the state and chronic kidney disease

  • The value of cultural practice to Aboriginal people

  • Interaction between gender and wellbeing amongst Indigenous Australians


Theme 7. Demography of Indigenous Peoples

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are a dynamic population. Whilst younger than the rest of the Australian population, the age profile of the Indigenous population is increasing and projected to increase further. Furthermore, although the Indigenous population is more likely to live in remote areas than the non-Indigenous population, in absolute terms the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is quite urban, and becoming more so. Within this theme, researchers at CAEPR are using both quantitative and qualitative data to understand the five major components of demographic change: population estimates, births, deaths, geographic mobility, and identification change. In addition to creating projection models for governments at the State/Territory level, a key aspect of CAEPR’s demographic research is to work with Indigenous communities to estimate and project the Indigenous population at a scale that is relevant and useful to local debates.

Current CAEPR projects in this area include:

  • Indigenous Population Project

  • The Gumurr Miwatj population project

  • Towards sovereign Indigenous demographies in Australia: reclaiming and re-imagining categories and indicators

  • Small area population projections for the Indigenous Australian population

  • Decision-making and the lifecourse: an exploration of behavioural processes affecting demographic outcomes

More information


Updated:  17 January 2018/Responsible Officer:  Centre Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications