Reconfiguring New Public Management


Reconfiguring New Public Management to recognise the distinctive role of First Nations organisations and rights of Indigenous peoples in social service delivery


About the project

This three-year collaborative research partnership aims to develop and propose new policy knowledge to contribute to reimagining how New Public Management (NPM) practices could be reconfigured to account for and better support the distinctive role of urban First Nations in New South Wales. NPM refers to a fundamental shift in the role of the government and the running of the public sector more broadly. It has been characterised by changes in funding structures and contractual arrangements (such as competitive tendering and so-called results-based management) and by new forms of government monitoring and regulation (such as accreditation, auditing and corporate governance training). These changes have been portrayed as bringing efficiencies to the delivery of services funded and provided by governments.

This research is based on the premise that urban First Nations organisations have a distinctive role in relation to urban First Nations people and their rights to self-determination and community development. Over the years, these organisations have proven essential to advocacy, the maintenance of community development, and the creation of new social infrastructure, with their successes resulting in both economic and social outcomes for First Nations peoples (Howard-Wagner 2017a).

Since its deployment, NPM has had multiple effects on urban First Nations organisations, changing the relationships between them, the communities they serve and belong to, and the government (e.g. Marsh 2015; Moran and Porter 2014; Moran, Porter and Curth-Bibb 2016; Sullivan 2015). It has also had significant transformative impacts on the operations of these organisations, often reducing their scope to service delivery functions, at least in the eyes of the government (Sullivan 2009, 2015; Moran 2014; Howard-Wagner 2016, 2017b; Hunt 2016).

In light of this, the objectives of the research are to:

  • improve our understanding of the effects of the most recent NPM reforms on the capacity of successful urban First Nations organisations in NSW to realise their distinctive role and further advance Indigenous rights (including rights to self-determination and community development).

  • improve our understanding and document how NPM is affecting the communal and civil society functions of urban First Nations organisations in Australia, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Canada.

  • provide evidence-based knowledge to reconfigure public administration to accommodate First Nation’s organisations distinctive roles based on the experiences of urban First Nations organisations in NSW, complemented by international research.


Guiding Principles and partnership

Guided by Indigenous methodologies, this research was built on an equal partnership between the researchers and the partner First Nations organisations (see below). That is, the researchers and the partner First Nations organisations and their representatives entered into a research relationship as equals, working together with the shared goal of improving our knowledge and understanding of the distinctive role urban First Nations organisations play in society in relation to First Nations peoples and their rights to self-determination and community development. The research approach is to be an open, iterative, collaborative process. As such, it has largely been developed around observations, questions and concerns formulated by a number of our current and former partners.

The research also privileges First Nations’ voices and knowledge, including in the development of research instruments such as the survey. The research practices (methods) we use are culturally safe, emancipatory, empowering and conform to Indigenous protocols (Tuhiwai Smith 1999; Denzin, Lincoln, & Tuhiwai Smith 2008; Moreton-Robinson & Walter 2009).

All parties agree to uphold a dynamic of trust, integrity and respect, and to value all knowledge and standpoints and do so by listening, sharing and learning from one another.

A fundamental principle emerging from the co-design process is that the research takes as its starting point the uniqueness of First Nations organisations, and documents other highly effective ways of doing business. The point is to demonstrate that the way successful First Nations organisations do business differs from the way that non-First Nations organisations, governments and wider communities do business.

From our First Nations organisation partners’ perspectives, the tangible benefits that will flow from the research is that it will gather data about:

  • the importance of culture to how First Nations organisations do business;

  • the value of First Nations' ways of doing business;

  • the value of First Nations organisations doing business on behalf of First Nations peoples and communities in social service and social policy spaces, and more broadly in terms of community development, economic development and to progress the social justice and rights-based needs of First Nations peoples in urban localities;

  • the effects of policy and ways government do business with First Nations organisations on the above, and,

  • the reasons why policy approaches are not working.


The team

The team is comprised of a First Nations Reference Group (FNRG) composed of representatives from six partner urban First Nations organisations in NSW and researchers from the ANU and Western Sydney University.


First Nations Reference Group

FNRG Co-chairs

  • June Riemer, CEO, First People Disability Network (FPDN)
  • Chris Mason, Community Engagement Officer, The Glen

FNRG Members

  • Deborah Evans, CEO, Tjillari Aboriginal Justice Corporation
  • Jack Gibson, Community Engagement Worker, Butucarbin
  • Cheryl Goh, Board Member, Muru Mittigar
  • John Leha, Sustainability Lead, National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE)

The FNRG is overseeing the research design, data management plan and dissemination of the research findings.



Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), ANU

  • Associate Professor Deirdre Howard-Wagner (Primary Investigator),
  • Associate Professor Janet Hunt, and
  • Dr Annick Thomassin

Institute for Cultural Studies (ICS), Western Sydney University

  • Associate Professor Karen Soldatic,
  • PhD Scholar Jack Gibson, and
  • Dr Kim Spurway.



The three-year research project (2018-2020) is funded by the Australian Research Council through the Discovery Project scheme.


Cited References

Denzin, N.K., Lincoln, Y.S., and Tuhiwai Smith, L. 2008. Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, Los Angeles, Sage Publications.

Howard-Wagner, D. 2016. Child Wellbeing and Protection as a Regulatory System in the neoliberal age: forms of Aboriginal agency and resistance engaged to confront the challenges for Aboriginal people and community-based Aboriginal organisations, Australian Indigenous Law Review, 19:88-102.

Howard-Wagner, D 2017a, Successful Urban Aboriginal-Driven Community Development: A Place-Based Study of Newcastle. CAEPR Discussion Paper.

Howard-Wagner, D. 2017b. Aboriginal corporations, recognition and the neoliberal age: a case study of how the game has changed for Aboriginal organisations in the Australian city of Newcastle, in Deirdre Howard-Wagner, Maria Bargh, and Isabel Altimarino- Jimenez (Eds.) Indigenous rights, recognition and the state in the neoliberal age, ANU E Press.

Hunt, J. 2016. Let’s talk about Success: exploring factors behind positive change in Aboriginal communities, CAEPR Working Paper 109/2016, Australian National University.

Marsh, I. 2015. The Malfunctions of New Public Management: A case study of governance in Indigenous affairs1. New Accountabilities, New Challenges, 265.

Moran, M. 2010. The Intercultural Practice of Local Governance in an Aboriginal Settlement in Australia. Human Organization. 69:65-74.

Moran, M., D. Porter and J. Curth. 2014. Funding Indigenous Organisations: Improving Governance Performance through Innovations in Public Finance Management in Remote Australia. Issues paper no 11. Canberra: Closing the Gap Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Government. http://

Moran, M. and D. Porter. 2014. Reinventing the Governance of Public Finances in Remote Indigenous Australia. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 73:115-127.

Moreton-Robinson, A and Walter, M.M. 2009. Editorial; International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, 2, (1) pp. 1.

Sullivan, P. 2009. Reciprocal accountability: Assessing the accountability environment in Australian aboriginal affairs policy', International Journal of Public Sector Management, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Vol.22, Iss.1, 2009, pp: 57-72.

Sullivan, P. 2015. A reciprocal relationship: Accountability for public value in the Aboriginal community sector, Lowitja Institute, Carlton, Victoria, WORKING/TECHNICAL PAPER.

Tuhiwai Smith, L. 1999. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, London and new York, Zed Books.


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