Details of the ATNS Project 2010

Project Outline 2010: Poverty in the Midst of Plenty: Economic Empowerment, Wealth Creation and Institutional Reform for Sustainable Indigenous and Local Communities

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Project Outline 2010

This project is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary study of the institutional, legal and policy reforms required to reduce indigenous and local peoples' poverty and to promote economic empowerment for sustainable indigenous and local communities. The comparative research draws on anthropology, geography, demography, law and public policy to identify and analyse impediments to indigenous socio-economic development and well-being, including impacts of large-scale resources projects in proximity to indigenous and local communities. The research will identify solutions for realising sustainable socio-economic development and wealth accumulation for indigenous communities, including policy, fiscal, procedural and legal prescriptions and models.

Background to the Project

This proposal builds on the two previous ARC projects which delivered tangible benefits to Indigenous communities, governments and private sector corporations with the online database of agreements; community and policy seminars on working with resource extraction industries, and economic development and tax; and associated publications. In 2002, the Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements (ATNS) Project began examining agreement-making with Indigenous Australians. In 2006, the focus expanded to agreement implementation, and factors promoting long-term outcomes. Research confirmed agreements as critical to providing opportunities for indigenous and local community socio-economic development (Langton et al 2006, 2004). Good practice in relationships, negotiations, agreements and projects conducted by Indigenous communities with others; and benefit maximisation and diversity of opportunity have emerged as key contributors to indigenous well-being which needs to comprise more than traditional health and economic outcomes to embrace expansive quality of life indicia.

In addition, extensive fieldwork by CIs and PI with Indigenous communities and mining companies revealed the need for further research into the systemic bases for indigenous disadvantage and poverty, structural hurdles in overcoming poverty and expansion of models for sustaining economic empowerment. Key areas include: institutional and inter-governmental arrangements in indigenous affairs, tax and the legal entities and forms available for structuring agreements; the social context for their implementation (Corbett & O’Faircheallaigh 2006, O’Faircheallaigh 2007, Strelein 2008). All require culturally appropriate data and analysis. Further, to fill an identified need for longitudinal studies to evaluate these matters, this project integrates research and analysis of corporate, trust, land titling and tax law and policy with research into economic capabilities, governance, and the social, demographic and policy environment; the role of tax in building economies; the ‘resource curse’ problem (Langton & Mazel 2008) and an increased focus on formalisation and securitisation of land titles (Wallace 2009). Its relevance is confirmed by the Federal government’s approach to indigenous affairs (Close the Gap, Macklin 2008) in concert with international literature on development (Sen1999). All are significant in promoting change and in maximising indigenous economic participation.

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Significance and Innovation

The project’s significance lies in its potential contribution to enhance socio-economic opportunities and to end poverty for indigenous and regional communities in Australia and in comparative international contexts. This potential can be realised through enhanced understanding of the institutional, structural and legal reforms required to promote indigenous economic participation, entrepreneurship and sustainable wealth creation. This new research investigates identified problems from a practical and theoretical perspective in public policy (institutional, fiscal, and governance issues), private sector participation and socioeconomic and cultural (including demographic) determinants.

Many past policies and institutional and legal models have failed indigenous peoples. The current research highlights indigenous economic empowerment and its relationship with government policy, indigenous institutions and land, corporate, trust and tax law. This emerges within the context of a broad literature on ‘development’. Research that illuminates the relationship between practice, policy and conceptual research is itself innovative and the proposed adoption of evidence-based analyses of the effectiveness of vital policies is equally significant. Key elements include:

Policy, institutional relationships, economic empowerment and the resources industry: Indigenous economic development is a federal policy priority (Macklin 2008). The need for innovative ways of increasing Indigenous wealth accumulation is clear, but also the immensity of the task (Altman, Biddle & Hunter 2008). Westbury and Dillon (2006) suggest indigenous disadvantage lies in the complex array of institutions, policies and programs in Australia. Thus the project examines the need for clear institutional arrangements, local and regional capacity through indigenous institutions, effective management of financial benefits resulting from agreements and transparency in agreement-making between the industry, governments and indigenous communities.

Mining: In Australia, mining offers many indigenous populations an alternative source of employment and contracting opportunities. Yet continuing high levels of disadvantage remain, even among Indigenous populations located near resource projects — a phenomenon of ‘poverty in the midst of plenty’ (Langton & Mazel 2008, Auty 1993). Given the unprecedented opportunities offered by the mining industry, it is vital to understand constraints on Indigenous economic participation. Moreover, high levels of dependency on mining can be detrimental for Indigenous and rural and regional communities so development aimed at increasing economic diversity is needed (DITR 2007). The research will document and evaluate approaches used in several communities to manage and utilise resource revenues to identify factors that explain variable economic and social outcomes. On this basis it will make recommendations for practice and policy reform to maximise the contribution of these revenues to indigenous economic and social development.

Economic distribution and diversification: The project examines institutional reforms to achieve effective management and distribution of financial benefits from mining agreements to encourage economic diversification. Altman & Taylor (1989) advocate selective use of community and regionally based ‘import substitution’ and ‘export promotion’ strategies for generation of products and services. Aboriginal organisations established primarily for land or natural resource management are increasingly securing contracts from governments and companies for provision of goods and services, playing a vital role in regional economies in Australia (Pritchard & Gibson 1996), suggesting significant benefits may result from Aboriginal ‘economies of scale’. Local diversification may be enhanced through best practice in design of tax, investment, joint venture and other instruments to share wealth from resources for local and Indigenous communities, while enabling capacity building for economic empowerment (Boadway & Keen 2008, Neilor 1995).

Regional infrastructure and services: Relationships between all levels of government, industry and local and regional indigenous organisations are crucial to developing adequate infrastructure and service provision especially in under-developed remote regions. Building indigenous perspectives and social constructs into the operation and design of policies and programs is essential to their success (Calma 2005), while ensuring services and agreement outcomes are responsive to community needs and local initiatives. We will examine the operation of indigenous institutions and the impacts of government policy and private sector activities and propose reforms facilitating collaborative programme delivery. Acquiring data for informed policy and planning: Fundamental to all of the above work is the availability of accurate data. A major problem in achieving optimal outcomes for indigenous community participation in regional economies is the lack of attention to giving effect to agreements (O’Faircheallaigh 2002a). This represents a failure of ‘progressive realisation’ that would ensure accountability in achieving identified goals within defined timeframes (Calma 2005). To enable more effective progression, region-specific social, cultural and economic data are essential, but that data must be culturally sensitive.

Culturally sensitive empirical data: Interest in statistical profiling of regional social and economic conditions in mining regions has emerged among some stakeholders (Harvey & Brereton 2005). Drawing on developments in applied demography (Siegel 2002), recent studies have begun to establish methodological tools and to identify data sources relevant to this task, including establishing the basic statistics on the size of regional Indigenous populations and their distribution, composition and dynamics (Taylor 1999, 2004a, 2004b, 2006, 2008, Taylor & Scambary 2005). The foundation for measuring impact of mining agreements on regional populations remains deficient. The facts of Indigenous demography are inadequately captured due to substantial undercount of Indigenous populations in the 2006 Census. Secondly, data inadequately reflects Indigenous socio-demographic categories. A more contextualised approach to the measurement of social and economic change is required, where ‘culture’ is not just an extraneous variable (Morphy 2007, Szreter, Sholkamy & Dharmalingam 2004: 6). Profiling to date provides an exemplar of ‘the demography of disadvantage’ (Jones 2004) hampered by lack of fit with local values, structures and institutions (Morphy 2007).

The project will address these shortcomings by evaluating and adjusting available demographic data as a preliminary to developing optimal estimates and projections (to 2026) of Indigenous populations in selected regions that are the focus of mining agreements. These adjusted population levels will be applied to indicators of social and economic status derived from existing census, survey and administrative data. No systematic attempt has been made to model Indigenous population change for mineral regions of Australia, although some groundwork exists (Brown, Taylor & Bell 2008). Without this, issues of scale and composition relating to future labour supply and the potential impact of mining employment on regional labour markets remains unknown, although initial work has been done (Biddle & Taylor 2008). Second, it will apply ethnographic methods to produce more nuanced profiles of Indigenous populations in two selected regions. This will involve identification of locally-defined categories of Indigenous social and economic organization. The aim is to develop conceptual tools to enable a recasting of conventional demographic facts to better reflect Indigenous categories and values. Particular attention will be paid to family structures and composition, life cycle influences on residence and mobility and kin-based connections to country. Advances require the application of techniques drawn from anthropological demography (Morphy 2007, Kertzer and Fricke 1997, Szreter, Sholkamy & Dharmalingam 2004). This innovative work incorporates alternative methods of development evaluation (O’Faircheallaigh 2002b), and builds on well-established participatory appraisal approaches including community mapping (Birckhead 1999, Chambers 1994, Walsh & Mitchell 2002, ESMAP et al 2005). It will demonstrate for the first time the practicality of injecting more ethnographically-informed data reflecting the diversity of Indigenous ‘life projects’ (Peterson 2005, Trigger 2005) into deliberations around mining agreements and their assessment. This will facilitate evidence-based policy making for regional and remote communities.

Legal and taxation options to create incentives for economic empowerment: Taxation is inextricably linked with integration in the market economy, participation on equal terms in the Australian polity and accountability in governance (Stewart 2006, Stewart 2003, Steinmo 1993; OECD, 2008). Current tax and legal regimes tend to embed poverty and limit entrepreneurship and investment by indigenous communities and individuals. Indigenous resource-related agreements involving the establishment of charitable trusts to manage negotiated financial benefits have proven inappropriate for the long-term sustainability of fund management (Strelein & Tran 2007). Importantly, the project will develop a detailed analysis of the full range of for-profit and non-profit legal, commercial and financial models that are available and appropriate for indigenous organisations and businesses. The project will educate and empower stakeholders to establish models best suited to their circumstances.

Instead of applying a standard model of market economy, the project investigates the role of tax in a ‘diverse economy’ acknowledging local and cultural economic practices (Gibson-Graham 2006: 58, Langton et al 2006). The project will draw on a comparative legal and policy analysis of regimes of tax exemption of indigenous peoples in Canada, the United States and New Zealand, as well as other tax and subsidy regimes for regional communities, such as the US New Markets Tax Credit (see Holland & Vann 1998, Wells et al 2001, US CDFI 2001, 2008). The project will analyse options for new tax vehicles (Levin 2007) and incentives for economic engagement (Gunya Australia 2007, Stewart 2008). The tax system may affect economic incentives (OECD 2002, 2003, Stewart 2005). Therefore, this analysis will critically examine the policy context, in particular the Australian Treasury’s wellbeing framework and the principles of tax policy design (Strelein 2008: 52, Henry 2007) to contribute to the design of tax regimes that help develop indigenous enterprises through joint ventures and other commercial and social models; empower indigenous people to participate actively in the economy rather than as recipients of welfare.

Land titling and securitisation options for economic empowerment: Creative and flexible uses of land titles can create economic opportunities. Australian governments have been rethinking the nature of indigenous land titles and their potential for wealth creation in developing policy approaches to welfare reform and ‘meaningful participation’ in the economy. The focus has been narrow — ie, creating legal frameworks allowing conversion of communal titles to individual titles (eg Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Amendment Act 2005, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Amendment Act 2008 (Qld)). De Soto (2000) criticised informal title systems as ‘dead capital’ — an analysis that has been loosely applied to criticisms of communal titles in Australia (Pearson et al 2006). More recently, international critiques of de Soto argue that the complex set of normative rules governing communal land titles requires a more nuanced approach than that originally articulated (UNDP 2006, Trebilcock & Veel 2008). In Australia, where native title is the main land based asset, formalisation and individuation raise particular difficulties (Godden & Tehan 2007). This project will analyse and propose creative ways in which indigenous land titles in Australia might be used for wealth creation, eg through land swaps and use as carbon sinks, as well as conventional securitisation use, without necessarily requiring choices between communal and individual titles. Evaluation of land titling reforms in other jurisdictions; applicability to Australia, as well as assessment of Australian reforms, will be a component of the project that combines with the broader economic empowerment context.

The ATNS database, developed and innovated in earlier projects, is crucial to project work as a rich storehouse of empirical research data, a public resource and a means of communicating with partners, indigenous communities and the public. The database technology and data currency determine its effectiveness. Enhancement of the database will extend its utility both as a public and research resource.

Conceptual Framework

Our comparative analysis involves investigation of the institutional, legal, social and economic arrangements required to promote sustainable economic empowerment and wealth creation for Indigenous and local peoples in Australia and elsewhere. Case studies at partner sites in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Southern Africa will be investigated, with a focus on mines, and oil and gas projects (Ballard & Banks 2003). Peru, the Pacific and Southern and Central Africa will be the focus of land titling research. In Southern Africa there are extensive areas of customary land holding where new models are giving greater recognition to local structures for indigenous development (see Kloppers & du Plessis 2008). The inclusion and economic opportunity for indigenous and local people are ongoing issues throughout these areas (Cornell & Kalt 2007, 2000, Howitt et al 1996). The comparative focus will extend the researchers’ previous work involving an audit of agreements and their implementation, development of the ATNS database and significant analytical work on the incidence, nature, scope, and content of agreements (Langton, Tehan, Palmer & Shain 2004, 2006, Tehan 2003, Llewellyn & Tehan 2006, Langton & Palmer 2003, Langton, Mazel & Palmer 2006, Langton & Mazel 2008). The multiple analytical methods will enable an in-depth understanding of the agreements, institutions and frameworks in practice.

A wide range of disciplinary expertise distinguishes the research team to ensure an effective intermeshing of methodologies via an interdisciplinary approach to complex problem solving (Klein 1999). Research symposia and team research will bring the various disciplines together for analysis and writing with a final jointly authored monograph capturing the integrated interdisciplinary scope of the project.

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Research Design

A ‘ground up’ approach using empirically-based case study analysis will give understanding of the scope and context of indigenous engagement in the economy and the impediments to further engagement and wealth accumulation. The main methodological stages are:

Each methodological stage will have a series of research questions which engage the institutional, cultural and legal indicators of economic empowerment and participation including impediments, incentives and benefits.

Research Methods

The diversity of research issues requires empirical work, investigation and analysis at many levels including further work on the ATNS database and primary social, demographic and legal research. Other key aspects are: finalising of case studies with Partner Organisations (projects, regions, jurisdictions and agreements will be identified using a sampling technique); undertaking of case studies in Australia and overseas; finalizing research questions for focused inquiry and the development and dissemination of interim and final results.

(i) Primary Legal and Social Research
This phase will develop case study targets and the basis for substantive analysis, beyond those already identified by Partner Organisations. It will involve general social, demographic and legal analysis of research questions, to inform the conceptual and theoretical bases of proposed frameworks for economic development and conclusions about best practice, impediments and reform. The substantive research will assist redesign of ATNS database.

(ii) Domestic Case Studies
Representative sample case studies will be developed in conjunction with Partner Organisations and indigenous communities. Potential sites (the Kimberley and the Pilbara) have been identified. The number of studies depends upon targets identified and the capacity for participation by indigenous communities. Marnda Mia has already indicated its willingness. Expressions of interest from industry and indigenous organizations indicate ready access to key information and sites. Empirical investigation will involve interviews with indigenous organisations, businesses and households; mining operations; government agencies; advisors etc. Research by expert associates will supplement this phase. Analyses of change in the socio-economic status of select regional populations impacted by mining agreements will occur using a mix of census and administrative time series data with qualitative input from mineworkers and associated households. Two case studies on land titling reform in Northern Territory will occur.

(iii) International Case Studies
International case studies will be based on their usefulness for comparative study with Australia. Already identified sites are Diavik Diamond Mine and Voisey’s Bay nickel mine (Canada), and Richards Bay Diamond Mine (South Africa). Initial research for international case studies (eg customary land claim/mining in Africa, Peru and, and joint ventures and benefit agreements in Canada and Aotearoa/New Zealand), will occur prior to extensive field research. The CIs and PI with substantial research experience in targeted international sites will manage the work together with eminent associate investigators from those sites. Partner Organisations (Rio Tinto, Santos and Woodside) will be involved.

(iv) Analysis and Writing
In-depth analysis of diverse arrangements and frameworks will enable a unique perspective on the institutional, structural and legal, imperatives that impede or promote indigenous economic empowerment; analysis and report writing, including integration of research findings into a series of public forums for research dissemination and publication; the conduct of seminars and workshops within phases (i) and (iv) addressing issues raised from comparative disciplinary perspectives; final workshop will include presentations for a monograph.

(v) Database upgrade and research capacity
Innovation in the ATNS database will continue. The database and case studies require collection of wide-ranging data. Quantitative statistical methods will be used to produce initial descriptive data on agreements and correlations for later intensive qualitative analysis. Review and upgrade of the infrastructure of the database will incorporate the functionality necessary for collecting and assessing information on agreement implementation and related activity in varied Australian and international contexts. The database’s bibliographic resources and searchable functions will be extended.

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Industry Partner Commitment and Collaboration

The project provides clear advantage to all partners informing and enhancing government, private sector and community engagement. All partners will be actively engaged in formulating the research agenda, and identifying key issues for investigation and case-study sites.

The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) has significant commitment to this application. FaHCSIA is the primary source of advice on Indigenous issues to the Federal Minister and the coordination point for whole-of-government arrangements in the delivery of programs and services for Australia’s Indigenous people, the COAG Working Group on Indigenous Affairs and the Ministerial Council on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Its continued engagement in successive projects indicates its commitment to our research agenda on economic empowerment consistent with Close the Gap.

Rio Tinto is a long-term partner organization for the researchers. It has offered substantial financial assistance. Rio Tinto supports international accords encompassing principles of social responsibility, sustainable development, concern for Indigenous and tribal peoples, fundamental principles of rights at work and human rights (Rio Tinto 2008). Rio Tinto is committed to working in partnership to enhance its policies and procedures to the ultimate advantage of Indigenous people in those countries in which they operate.

Woodside is offering financial assistance. Woodside staff has been active participants in ARC Linkage symposia. Woodside’s operations off North-West Australia and on-shore activities mean it directly engages with indigenous communities. Its participation represents a commitment to ‘establishing and maintaining sustainable and mutually advantageous relationships with indigenous communities wherever it operates’ (Woodside 2005).

Santos is offering financial and in-kind contributions. It is committed to working with the researchers to develop effective bases for practical outcomes for indigenous communities involved with its resource extraction activities.

Marnda Mia is offering a significant in-kind commitment. The Marnda Mia Central Negotiating Committee comprises traditional indigenous landowners from the Pilbara region at the heart of negotiating and managing benefits and effects of the resources’ industry. Marnda Mia’s collaboration will give significant indigenous guidance on the research agenda.

National Benefit

This project will provide a major contribution to the strengthening Australia’s social and economic fabric and promoting and maintaining good health, which are two of Australia’s national research priorities. The project directly addresses the issue through its analysis of key social determinants including ‘economic participation, financial incentives and community and private sources of support’ for Indigenous people. Investigation of social and economic policy options including welfare reform and participation, as well as fiscal, and legal forms for creating economic incentives will have flow on effects in creating better health outcomes for indigenous communities. The research findings will have wider application in the development of new and effective policy and regulation for indigenous economic empowerment, sustainable communities and associated health outcomes. Projected ‘end-users’ include indigenous and local communities, governments, policy makers and regulators, and resource/other corporations engaged in activities near indigenous communities.

The project will also investigate innovative land use and economic opportunities that may arise with the structural adjustments in resource and land management sectors with carbon pricing and any potential synergies with indigenous care for country.

Government and private sector initiatives are providing renewed prospects for economic development. Agreement-making by public and private sectors with indigenous peoples remains central. Research leading to more effective outcomes will produce significant benefits for indigenous communities by: analysing ways to maximise the flow of benefits from the resources sector; researching links between government behaviour and service for indigenous well-being; and investigating legal forms and taxation law and policy (tax incentives), to encourage indigenous capacity and entrepreneurialism and making publicly accessible information on the alternatives available for maximising wealth creation. Previous ATNS research identified that Indigenous communities/Native Title Representative Bodies formulate long-term structures for income and assets in a policy and legal vacuum. This research project will achieve better design of legal and tax reforms for more effective legal and management structures. Land titling research will give evidence-based analysis for innovative land titling and security options while preserving indigenous land relationships.

Partners use the research to solve identified problems and contribute to ongoing policy development. Research will enhance Partner Organisation capacity to meet social responsibility obligations and to ensure engagement with indigenous communities produces intended benefits of socio-economic development and wealth accumulation. Investigation of public sector frameworks and recommendations for better policy integration will assist government policy-makers. In addition to the flow-on benefits of policy changes at both the macro and micro level, this research will benefit Marnda Mia (and similar bodies) by ensuring best practice in both negotiation and implementation of agreements and management of benefits flowing from the resources sector. In addition to the general application of the projects benefits, the project (including the ATNS database) will provide a valuable source of information on policy options for indigenous economic development including agreements and their economic implications. The distribution of research findings and the database, will have a significant role in improving socio-economic outcomes for and empowering Indigenous communities across Australia.


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