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Strategic Priority 5



AIATSIS’ role as an adviser on the situation and status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage was made explicit in amendments to its statutory functions in 2016. While AIATSIS has always provided advice on specific issues and questions in this territory, its broad advisory activity is now being established through the development of an Indigenous Research and Reporting Framework.

KEY OUTCOMES 2018–2022

  • Positioning AIATSIS as a trusted advisor
  • Building our policy capacity and capability to deliver world class expertise
    • Reporting regularly on the situation and status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage

Key action: Proactively participate in national and international policy debate, expert mechanisms and forums relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and heritage

On 6 March 2018, AIATSIS hosted a Culture and Policy Symposium, which was attended by over 110 people. The symposium focused on how Indigenous cultures can be defined in ways that are constructive for policymakers and explored how to determine impacts of policy on the enjoyment and resurgence of Indigenous cultures. It was an opportunity to share and hear practical examples of strengthening cultural identity and included discussions of how these can better inform policy making. Planning is underway for a second Culture and Policy Symposium to be held in October 2019.

The third annual Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) Legal Workshop was held over 20–22 February 2019 in Sydney. The event attracted fifty attendees from across the country. The workshop is a key professional development opportunity for native title legal practitioners to share and develop their knowledge of contemporary native title legal issues. The product of a partnership between AIATSIS and the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), the workshop featured presentations by lawyers on specific issues related to native title, facilitated open discussions, and advocacy training.

AIATSIS made submissions to six policy inquiries and consultative processes during the year:

  • Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on Closing the Gap Refresh draft targets
  • Senate inquiry into Australia’s faunal extinction crisis
  • Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia Inquiry into the Opportunities and Challenges of Engagement with Traditional Owners in the Economic Development of Northern Australia
  • IP Australia’s Indigenous Knowledge Consultations—Protection of Indigenous Knowledge in the Intellectual Property System
  • Department of Premier and Cabinet (WA) discussion paper—‘An office for advocacy and accountability in Aboriginal affairs in Western Australia’
  • Australian Human Rights Commission Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Voices) Project.

See Appendix D for more detail about these submissions.

Key action: Report and provide advice on the state of Indigenous cultures and heritage

Research and reporting framework

In March AIATSIS held an expert roundtable to begin the design of the ‘domains’ of culture that will form the basis for the framework for reporting on the situation and status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage. AIATSIS is working with consultants from the Nous Group to develop the framework. A preliminary literature review has been drafted, and AIATSIS will continue to work closely with Nous on this project to develop the framework and exemplify its application in selected cultural domains. Nous has produced its first deliverable in the form of a project methodology, and further discussions between AIATSIS and Nous will take place to ensure efficient delivery of project outcomes.

Indigenous Research Exchange

Outcomes of the research conducted under the Indigenous Research Exchange will contribute to the recently formed Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Joint Council on Closing the Gap. This partnership between all levels of government recognises that shared decision-making with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Closing the Gap framework is essential to closing the gap in life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

National Indigenous Languages Report

The National Indigenous Languages Survey completed in 2018–19 and the upcoming report represent a major assessment of the current state of Australian Indigenous languages. See page 48 for more details about this project.

Key action: Develop a schedule of regular reporting to support transparency of advice

An outcome of the Research and Reporting Framework outlined above will be advice on the recommended frequency, priorities and program for reporting on the state of Indigenous cultures and heritage.


ADVICE OUTPUTS (monitoring)





Policy submissions—number




Presentations and workshops for government— number





AIATSIS has continued to provide advice on matters relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, with the completion of the National Indigenous Languages Survey being a major contribution in the International Year of Indigenous Languages, alongside a number of other submissions and advisory reports. The Native Title Research Unit has continued to advise government on matters related to native title and land. Presentations to government audiences have increased. Policy submissions have decreased in response to the number of consultative processes and inquiries relevant to AIATSIS.

Through the Culture in Policy and Practice project, starting with its recent policy symposium, progress on the Research and Reporting Framework and early steps to establish the Indigenous Research Exchange, AIATSIS has made significant progress in laying the foundations and establishing the infrastructure required to fulfil its ongoing role as an adviser on the state of Indigenous heritage and culture.