Indigenous Australian self-determination, also known as Aboriginal Australian self-determination, is the power relating to self-governance by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. It is the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to determine their own political status and pursue their own economic, social and cultural interests. Self-determination asserts that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should direct and implement Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy formulation and provision of services. Self-determination encompasses both Aboriginal land rights and self-governance,[1][2] and may also be supported by a treaty between a government and an Indigenous group in Australia.[3]

From the 1970s to 1990s, the Australian government supported Aboriginal groups moving from large settlements in remote areas back to outstation communities in formerly traditional lands. Also from the early 1970s, Aboriginal communities began running their own health services, legal services, and housing cooperatives.[4]


During this period, the Whitlam government changed Australian Indigenous policy significantly by moving away from cultural assimilation and towards self-determination.[5]

Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders

The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders was founded in 1957 as a non-governmental organization to advance Aboriginal rights, composed of various member organisations.[6]

Department of Aboriginal Affairs

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs was founded by the Whitlam government to replace the government agencies responsible for Indigenous affairs, the Council for Aboriginal Affairs, and the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, while also providing a route for self-determination by employing Indigenous Australians.[7]

National Aboriginal Consultative Committee

The National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NACC) was the first elected body representing Indigenous Australians on the national level, having been established by the Whitlam government in 1972.[7] It was composed of 36 representatives elected by Aboriginal people in 36 regions of Australia.[7] In 1983, the elections reached a turnout of approximately 78%.[6] However, the organisation was marred by friction with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, while internally lacking coherence.[6]

National Aboriginal Conference

Following a review in 1976, the NACC was abolished by the new Fraser government in 1977.[6] To replace it, the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC) was founded.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC)

Following the election of the Hawke government in 1983, two reports were commissioned into a replacement of the NAC. The O'Donoghue report argued that the NAC did not effectively represent its constituents or advocate specific policies.[6] The Coombs report made the case for an organisation with representation of regions and existing indigenous organisations.[6]

To respond to these recommendations, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission was founded in 1989.

Following allegations of corruption, it was abolished by the Howard government in 2004.[8]

Aboriginal Provisional Government

The Aboriginal Provisional Government has campaigned for Aboriginal sovereignty in Australia, and is headed by an Elders Council.[6] It also issues Aboriginal passports.

2000 – current

The dissolution of ATSIC in 2004 was seen by some as an end to self-determination as a policy.[9] Nevertheless, calls for it have continued among Indigenous Australians.[10]

Uluru Statement

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was a call for a "First Nations Voice" and a "Makarrata Commission" to drive "agreement-making" and "truth-telling", made by a First Nations National Constitutional Convention in 2017.[11] This suggestion was refused by the Turnbull government.[12]

Victorian First Peoples' Assembly

Further information: First Peoples' Assembly

In 2018 the state of Victoria passed legislation which established the legal framework for an Aboriginal representative body with which the state could negotiate a treaty.[13] This resulted in the 2019 Victorian First Peoples' Assembly election, to elect the 21 members of the First Peoples' Assembly.

Indigenous voice to government

Main article: Indigenous voice to government

On 30 October 2019, Wyatt announced the commencement of a "co-design process" aimed at providing an "Indigenous voice to government". The Senior Advisory Group is co-chaired by Professor Tom Calma AO, Chancellor of the University of Canberra, and Professor Dr Marcia Langton, Associate Provost at the University of Melbourne, and comprises a total of 20 leaders and experts from across the country.[14] The models for the Voice are being developed in two stages:[15]

  1. First, two groups, one local and regional and the other a national group, will create models aimed at improving local and regional decision-making, and identifying how best federal government can record Indigenous peoples' views and ideas. The groups consist mainly of Indigenous members.
  2. Consultations will be held with Indigenous leaders, communities and stakeholders to refine the models developed in the first stage.

The first meeting of the group was held in Canberra on 13 November 2019.[16]

See also




  1. ^ "Right to self determination". Australian Human Rights Commission. Australian Government. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Aboriginal self-determination and autonomy". Creative Spirits. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018". Parliament of Victoria. 7 March 2018. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  4. ^ Kowal, Emma (2008). "The Politics of the Gap: Indigenous Australians, Liberal Multiculturalism, and the End of the Self-Determination Era – KOWAL – 2008 – American Anthropologist – Wiley Online Library". American Anthropologist. 110 (3): 338–348. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1433.2008.00043.x.
  5. ^ Hocking, Jenny (2018). "'A transforming sentiment in this country': The Whitlam government and Indigenous self-determination". Australian Journal of Public Administration. 77 (S1): S5–S12. doi:10.1111/1467-8500.12353. ISSN 1467-8500.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Building a sustainable National Indigenous Representative Body – Issues for consideration: Issues Paper 2008 | Australian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Spirits, Jens Korff, Creative (8 July 2019). "Aboriginal representative bodies". Creative Spirits. Retrieved 30 December 2019.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Pia Akerman (22 October 2009). "We should have kept ATSIC: Lowitja O'Donoghue". The Australian. Retrieved 18 January 2012.
  9. ^ "Howard silences Aboriginal advocates". The Sydney Morning Herald. 16 April 2004. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  10. ^ Bellear, Sol (21 October 2013). "The case for Indigenous self-determination". ABC News. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  11. ^ Commonwealth Parliament, Canberra. "Uluru Statement: a quick guide". Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  12. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (26 October 2017). "Turnbull's Uluru statement rejection is 'mean-spirited bastardry' – legal expert". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  13. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (21 June 2018). "Victoria passes historic law to create Indigenous treaty framework". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  14. ^ "A voice for Indigenous Australians". Ministers Media Centre. 30 October 2019. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  15. ^ Grattan, Michelle (29 October 2019). "Proposed Indigenous 'voice' will be to government rather than to parliament". The Conversation. Retrieved 18 July 2020.
  16. ^ Wellington, Shahni (13 November 2019). "First meeting held by senior body for Indigenous Voice to government". NITV. Special Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 24 January 2020.