About the Symposium - Background and Themes

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For 10 years the ATNS Project has engaged in ground breaking research at the interface between indigenous peoples and resource exploitation. We have considered questions that have become more and more significant as extractive industries have reached into virtually every corner of the world.

  • Is mining compatible with the maintenance of sustainable indigenous societies?
  • Why have indigenous people continued to endure poverty while enormous wealth is extracted from their ancestral lands?
  • What has to change if resource extraction is to create opportunities for indigenous development?
  • What must government, industry and indigenous organisations and peoples do to bring about this change?

This Symposium celebrates 10 years of the ATNS Project, and provides a unique opportunity for indigenous organisations, researchers and industry to gain access to the research outcomes of the Project and to contribute to this growing body of knowledge. We warmly invite you to participate.

The Symposium will enable ATNS and other researchers as well as indigenous and industry practitioners to present their findings on negotiated agreements and other arrangements that enable indigenous people to shape the impacts of extractive industries, enhance economic opportunities and social development, and create a sustainable basis for industry operations on indigenous lands.

The Symposium will discuss the factors contributing to indigenous success or failure in pursuing economic and social opportunity. It will also identify how the potential for indigenous entrepreneurship and sustainable wealth creation can be increased through institutional, structural and legal reforms. The ATNS has investigated treaty and agreement making with indigenous people in Australia and in many other resource extraction economies. Our research, frequently drawing on detailed case studies, has encompassed a range of critical issues, including the nature and implications of cultural, social and legal rights; how native title and other legislation works in relation to negotiated agreements; agreement implementation; the sustainability of agreement outcomes; conflict resolution; and issues relating to the use of indigenous revenues from resource development, including taxation and governance.

The Symposium will be held at the University of Melbourne and will involve participants from indigenous, industry, academic and government sectors. It offers a unique opportunity to access a decade's research and innovation at the cutting edge of relations between indigenous peoples and industry. There will be ample time for discussion and debate and for participants to explore the issues that are of central concern to them.

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Day One: Tuesday 25th June 2013

Theme 1: Indigenous people and the resource extraction industry: towards public, transparent and human rights compliance standards (convened by Professor Marcia Langton)

There is a growing acceptance among companies in the resource extraction industries of the need to include a range of benefits for local communities in land access agreements. As well, many companies recognise the need for a proactive approach to environmental and social risk management. Sustainability indicators may be used internally for performance monitoring, as well as for communication to external stakeholders.

The standards of engagement vary widely however, and because there is no public reporting process for companies that engage responsibly with indigenous people to achieve sustainable goals in community development, there is a need to identify the standards that would be acceptable to industry and community and to devise both a framework, a set of indicators and a reporting mechanism.

An absence of transparency has prevented the development of high standard models of engagement and good practice in agreement making. Reporting against indicators can usefully disclose how companies act to mitigate negative impacts, and contribute to local development, and how consultation processes ensure that the assessments of impact and the valuations of benefit properly reflect local views. What are the standards that agreements with indigenous peoples should comply with? What mechanisms would be most suited to achieving compliance with good practice standards in this field?

Theme 1 will be opened by two keynote speakers, followed by respondents and a panel discussion

Keynote Speakers:

Dame Meg Taylor, Vice President, Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) for International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), Washington DC, USA.

Professor Megan Davis, Expert Member, United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and Director, Indigenous Law Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Theme 2: Land and new ideas for economic empowerment: title, management and agreement making (convened by Associate Professor Maureen Tehan, Professor Lee Godden and Dr Lisa Strelein)

Land is the central element of this theme. Agreement making has long comprised an important means of involving indigenous peoples in land and resource management in settler societies, with varying levels of engagement from consultation to co-management. Lying behind these is the myriad of land claims processes, including native title claims, which provide a trigger for negotiation of agreements with governments, resource companies and other third parties with prospective benefits contributing to long term economic empowerment. In recent years a multiplicity of developments including more autonomous forms of participation, such as Indigenous Protected Areas and changes to land title arrangements, have emerged as potential sources for economic empowerment. There are strong claims for more robust commercial involvement by indigenous peoples in a variety of natural resources contexts, such as water, while Australia currently is experiencing major shifts in the policy and legal domain in terms of how indigenous land and natural resources are understood, conserved and/or utilized in cultural and commercial contexts. Much of this development remains limited by the narrow interpretation of s223 of the native Title Act. This theme considers native title, agreement making; land title, management, governance, land use planning and natural resources and energy with a particular focus upon how novel arrangements, such as formalised/individual land titles, governance, climate economies and ecosystem services, may impinge upon or empower indigenous peoples and their development aspirations.

Day Two: Wednesday 26th June 2013

Theme 3: The delivery and sustainable governance of benefits to indigenous people from agreements (convened by Professor Ciaran O'Faircheallaigh and Professor Miranda Stewart)

As all parties have built expertise in negotiation of native title agreements, our research focus has shifted towards the delivery of benefits and the governing, legal and investment arrangements and entities that are best suited to manage agreement benefits for the short and long term. For example, indigenous and local communities face difficult choices regarding the extent to which agreement benefits are used in private or public investment and how they are managed to generate future community wealth and security. 'Governance' cannot be divorced from 'politics', either at the interface between Aboriginal and mainstream domains or within the Aboriginal domain. This theme includes:

  • robust and legitimate representative structures;
  • decision making systems tailored to a range of different contexts, purposes and goals;
  • mobilisation of capital and human resources;
  • interaction between indigenous governance and governments, in particular the effects of local, state and national taxation laws on indigenous economic development;
  • selection, role and governance of legal entities used in managing agreement benefits.

Keynote Speaker

Professor Saleem Ali, Director, Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM), University of Queensland.

Theme 4: Understanding indigenous population dynamics and the relevance to employment opportunities in the resources sector (convened by Professor John Taylor and Professor Marcia Langton)

Given that employment is central to economic and social well-being and that many mining agreements focus on raising indigenous employment, the degree to which indigenous people have participated in the recent growth in mining-related employment in Australia is of considerable interest - who has participated, in what ways and in which locations? Previous research has revealed that structural ageing is occurring among indigenous populations in mining regions and that younger cohorts are less well-equipped for mainstream employment participation than older ones. In terms of potential economic dividend from population aeging, this raises important questions about the age distribution of participation and whether it has shifted during the mining boom. Data from the 2011 census now enable a decade-long analysis of change in regional employment status by age cohorts. By combining this with insights from company data on recruitment and retention we can examine these changes against the backdrop of regional shifts in demography.

Keynote Speaker

Professor Matthew Gray, Director, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), Australian National University.

For any questions please contact our Project Manager:

Judy Longbottom
03 8344 9161