Contested Governance

Contested Governance: Culture, power and institutions in Indigenous Australia

Janet Hunt
Diane Smith
Stephanie Garling
Will Sanders
Volume: 29
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Contested Governance
    Book Description:

    It is gradually being recognised by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians that getting contemporary Indigenous governance right is fundamental to improving Indigenous well-being and generating sustained socioeconomic development. This collection of papers examines the dilemmas and challenges involved in the Indigenous struggle for the development and recognition of systems of governance that they recognise as both legitimate and effective. The authors highlight the nature of the contestation and negotiation between Australian governments, their agents, and Indigenous groups over the appropriateness of different governance processes, values and practices, and over the application of related policy, institutional and funding frameworks within Indigenous affairs. The long-term, comparative study reported in this monograph has been national in coverage, and community and regional in focus. It has pulled together a multidisciplinary team to work with partner communities and organisations to investigate Indigenous governance arrangements-the processes, structures, scales, institutions, leadership, powers, capacities, and cultural foundations-across rural, remote and urban settings. This ethnographic case study research demonstrates that Indigenous and non-Indigenous governance systems are intercultural in respect to issues of power, authority, institutions and relationships. It documents the intended and unintended consequences-beneficial and negative-arising for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians from the realities of contested governance. The findings suggest that the facilitation of effective, legitimate governance should be a policy, funding and institutional imperative for all Australian governments. This research was conducted under an Australian Research Council Linkage Project, with Reconciliation Australia as Industry Partner.

    eISBN: 978-1-921536-05-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Notes on contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  6. Abbreviations and acronyms
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  7. Foreword
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    Mick Dodson

    Governance has become a concern for Indigenous peoples worldwide, so it is significant that the research that informed this book grew out of early linkages between Australian researchers and Indigenous leaders with their Canadian and US counterparts. These early relationships, with people associated with the landmark Delgamuukw v British Columbia case, the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and the Native Nations Institute at the Udall Centre at the University of Arizona, developed into a series of exchanges across the Pacific Ocean that have been ongoing since the late 1990s.

    In April 2002, the first national Indigenous Governance Conference...

  8. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
    Janet Hunt, Diane Smith, Stephanie Garling and Will Sanders
  9. Part 1. The governance environment

    • 2. Between a rock and a hard place: self-determination, mainstreaming and Indigenous community governance
      (pp. 27-54)
      Janet Hunt

      The first few years of the new century saw major change in the Australian Government’s approach to Indigenous affairs. These developments combined with simultaneous policy shifts in State and Territory jurisdictions to create a period of enormous flux and uncertainty in Indigenous communities and organisations. This chapter aims to help readers understand these changes and the resulting challenges facing the Indigenous community governance bodies involved in our research. Subsequent chapters will indicate that Indigenous people and their organisations actively engaged through this period, trying to manoeuvre their way through these new arrangements towards their own goals. The changes presented opportunities...

    • 3. Constraints on researchers acting as change agents
      (pp. 55-72)
      Sarah Holcombe

      This chapter reflects on the role of research and the constraints on researchers acting as change agents in the context of a project on an Aboriginal governance issue. By examining what has happened to the knowledge produced in the context of this project, with the Anmatjere Community Government Council (ACGC) about a fringe camp within the Ti Tree township in the Northern Territory (NT), the tensions between advocacy and impartiality are explored. This fringe camp is without any basic servicing, although there has been a permanent Aboriginal population there since settlement of the town from the late 1880s. The conundrum...

  10. Part 2. Culture, power and the intercultural

    • 4. Cultures of governance and the governance of culture: transforming and containing Indigenous institutions in West Arnhem Land
      (pp. 75-112)
      Diane Smith

      In the 40 years since the 1967 referendum¹ in Australia, governments have developed legislation, policies, and a multitude of institutional mechanisms in their attempts to govern the Indigenous population and address its entrenched socioeconomic disadvantage. These interventions into Indigenous lives by the state have been primarily predicated on western values, institutions and beliefs about what constitutes ‘good governance’ and, accordingly, what Indigenous Australians should do to develop it.

      Implicit in these government strategies has been a deep-seated lack of confidence in Indigenous ‘culture’ itself, exacerbated by contradictory underlying assumptions. On the one hand, the hope of policy makers is that...

    • 5. Whose governance, for whose good? The Laynhapuy Homelands Association and the neo-assimilationist turn in Indigenous policy
      (pp. 113-152)
      Frances Morphy

      The Laynhapuy Homelands Association Incorporated (Laynha for short) is an Indigenous organisation that was incorporated under the Northern Territory’s (NT) Associations Incorporation Act 1963 in 1984.¹ Its headquarters are at Yirrkala in northeast Arnhem Land, from where it acts as the resource centre for a group of nearly 20 surrounding outstations or homeland settlements across a region of some 6500km² in extent.² Yirrkala and the Laynha homelands are in the most easterly area of the Yolngu-speaking bloc (see Fig. 5.1), where varieties of Yolngu-matha are still the first languages of close to 100 per cent of the Aboriginal population.³ The...

    • 6. Regenerating governance on Kaanju homelands
      (pp. 153-174)
      Benjamin Richard Smith

      Across Australia, the complexities of Indigenous governance are increasingly recognised. These complexities are apparent in intercultural engagements between Aboriginal people and the Australian ‘mainstream’, but they are also a feature of what is often described as the ‘Aboriginal domain’. This chapter explores governance in central Cape York Peninsula—focusing on the upper watersheds of the Wenlock and Pascoe Rivers—where these two sets of complexities are deeply interwoven and are now manifest as aspects of a single, heterogeneous field of governance.

      Kaanju people, who consider the upper Wenlock and Pascoe Rivers to be their traditional country, have recently sought to...

  11. Part 3. Institutions of Indigenous governance

    • 7. Different governance for difference: the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation
      (pp. 177-204)
      Jon Altman

      This chapter focuses on the organisational history and governance development of the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation (BAC) from its establishment in 1979 until late 2007. BAC is located in the Aboriginal township of Maningrida in north-central Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory (NT). It was incorporated under the Commonwealth Aboriginal Councils and Associations Act 1976 as an outstations resource organisation. Its original objects were to provide services to its members, most of whom resided at small dispersed outstation communities in the Maningrida hinterland of around 10,000km². BAC, however, has always been more than just a resource agency for outstations. From its...

    • 8. The business of governing: building institutional capital in an urban enterprise
      (pp. 205-232)
      Diane Smith

      Behind the interest in Indigenous community governance lies a concern for the improved socioeconomic well being of Indigenous people. International research has found that there is a ‘development dividend’ (see Kaufmann 2005) attached to what is commonly referred to as ‘good governance’, and that it applies to quite poor countries and Indigenous societies (see Cornell and Kalt 1990; Kaufmann, Kraay and Mastruzzi 2005). In Australia, Indigenous communities are familiar with the cycle of business and economic development failures, and there is evidence that weak governance capacity is a contributing factor (Hunt and Smith 2006, 2007). In other words, Indigenous economic...

    • 9. Indigenous leaders and leadership: agents of networked governance
      (pp. 233-262)
      Bill Ivory

      In 2007, the Prime Minister of Australia, The Hon. John Howard,¹ introduced a policy of unilateral intervention into Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory (NT), purportedly to address the overwhelming incidence of child abuse. In doing so, he argued that ‘The basic elements of a civilised society don’t exist’.² His main Ministerial proponent of the intervention, The Hon. Mal Brough, the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, justified the nature of the initiative by characterising Indigenous people in the NT as having a dysfunctional society where ‘strong men prevail’ (Howard and Brough 2007). In addition, the Federal Health...

  12. Part 4. Contesting cultural geographies of governance

    • 10. Noongar Nation
      (pp. 265-282)
      Manuhuia Barcham

      In the wake of the positive determination made in the case of the Perth metropolitan area in the Single Noongar (native title) Claim in late 2006, the idea of a Noongar Nation is gaining currency around Australia. The judgment made clear that Noongar constitute a single group—a Noongar Nation. Exploring how this came about is the aim of this chapter. The chapter begins with a discussion of the historical context of the southwest of Western Australia (WA), with its long history of European contact and the subsequent effects this contact had on Noongar language and culture. After looking at...

    • 11. Regionalism that respects localism: the Anmatjere Community Government Council and beyond
      (pp. 283-310)
      Will Sanders

      The Anmatjere Community Government Council (ACGC) in central Australia was established in 1993 as part of a push by the Northern Territory (NT) Government towards larger regional, multi-settlement groupings within its emerging local government system. Fifteen years on, as part of another such push, ACGC is about to be amalgamated into a much larger Central Desert Shire. The shire, which will begin operations during 2008, will merge ACGC with five other local governing bodies and cover a population some four times ACGC’s current constituency.

      This chapter reflects on the history of ACGC within the NT local government system and on...

  13. Part 5. Rebuilding governance

    • 12. Incorporating cattle: governance and an Aboriginal pastoral enterprise
      (pp. 313-330)
      Christina Lange

      Drought and dying cattle have always been part of life on pastoral stations in Australia. Banjo Paterson’s poem from 1896 captures the desperation of droving cattle to greener pastures in times of drought:

      We cannot use the whip for shame

      On beasts that crawl along;

      We have to drop the weak and lame,

      And try to save the strong;

      The wrath of God is on the track,

      The drought fiend holds his sway,

      With blows and cries and stockwhip crack

      We take the stock away.

      As they fall we leave them lying,

      With the crows to watch them dying,


    • 13. Mapping expectations around a ‘governance review’ exercise of a West Kimberley organisation
      (pp. 331-350)
      Kathryn Thorburn

      The term ‘governance’ relating to the management of Australian Indigenous organisations and communities became increasingly common in the late 1990s. By the early 2000s, a suite of training packages were being developed to address particular deficiencies identified as part of a new focus on capacity building in Indigenous organisations.¹ The focus of such training, however, along with the considerable range of meanings associated with the term ‘governance’ itself, was wide ranging and variable in its effectiveness.²

      Since around 2000, there have also been policy shifts encouraging the amalgamation of smaller organisations into larger ‘umbrella’ structures. This process has seen smaller,...

  14. Key ICGP Publications
    (pp. 351-352)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 353-354)