Indigenous peoples

DFAT Indigenous Peoples Strategy

The Australian Government is committed to providing opportunities to assist indigenous peoples – both in Australia and overseas – to overcome social and economic disadvantages.

Indigenous peoples make up only 5 per cent of the global population; however they make up 15 per cent of the world’s poor and about one-third of the world’s 900 million extremely poor rural people. Australia’s first peoples are one of the oldest continues living cultures on Earth. The contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to modern Australian society is an enormous part of what makes our country and who we are. The Australian Government is committed to better engagement with its Indigenous peoples to ensure policies and programmes improve their lives and opportunities across country. Globally, Australia continues to be a strong advocate for the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples around the world in international matters which affect them.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is committed to ensuring that indigenous peoples benefit from its work. Through a network of 95 overseas posts in 77 countries, and in partnership with government and non-government organisations, business and community groups in Australia and overseas, DFAT leads the Australian Government’s efforts to:

  • advance Australia’s security interests internationally
  • open up new markets and create conditions for increased trade and investment to strengthen Australia’s economy and to create jobs
  • lift living standards and reduce poverty in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond
  • shape the regional and international environment and strengthen global cooperation in ways that advance Australia’s interests
  • project a positive and contemporary image of Australia as a destination for business, investment, tourism and study
  • provide high-quality passport and consular services to Australian citizens.

DFAT has developed a five-year Indigenous Peoples Strategy to align its work on issues affecting indigenous peoples across the foreign policy, aid, trade and corporate objectives for the department. The Indigenous Peoples Strategy provides a framework for DFAT to work with its partners to advance and promote the wellbeing of indigenous peoples around the world, in line with Australia’s national interest. DFAT will use the strategy to manage for positive results and continual improvement in its work on issues affecting indigenous peoples. DFAT will assess and disseminate lessons from its work to contribute towards evidence and debate about issues affecting indigenous peoples, both in Australia and overseas.

The strategy will be guided by four pillars to achieve this vision:

  • DFAT will work with its partners to influence international policy to advance the interests of indigenous peoples in the international community.
  • DFAT will strive to deliver international programs that improve outcomes for indigenous peoples.
  • DFAT will encourage Indigenous Australians to apply for DFAT-funded opportunities to engage in and develop people-to-people links with the international community.
  • DFAT will ensure an inclusive workplace culture across the department.

DFAT’s Indigenous Taskforce is responsible for monitoring the overall implementation of the Indigenous Peoples Strategy. DFAT will conduct a mid-term review of the strategy in 2017 and a final review in 2020.

Read the DFAT Indigenous Peoples Strategy 2015-2019

Reaching indigenous people in the Australian aid program: guidance note

Australia remains committed to inclusive development and assisting the most disadvantaged find pathways out of poverty. Recognising that indigenous peoples often experience disproportionate rates of poverty, and are at increased risk of exclusion and marginalisation, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has prepared this guidance noted to assist staff to design and deliver international development programs that strive to:

  1. be inclusive of indigenous peoples’ issues
  2. improve outcomes for indigenous peoples
  3. engage responsibly with risk and mitigate potential adverse on indigenous peoples.

This guidance note should be read in conjunction with DFAT’s Indigenous Peoples Strategy, development policy and sectoral guidance notes.

Read the guidance note

Short Note: How to rate indigenous issues in aid quality checks

Aid Quality Checks (AQCs) are a management tool to assess DFAT’s aid investments. Completing an AQC involves rating investment performance against six aid quality criteria using a six-point rating scale. Evidence to support AQC ratings is drawn from a variety of sources including: monitoring and evaluation frameworks, field visits, reviews, evaluations and reports from implementing partners. Information from AQCs is primarily used for investment management and decision- making. The AQC template includes two questions to assess how investments are addressing issues affecting indigenous people. The rating criteria seeks to uphold both Australia’s, and our partner governments’, international commitments to indigenous peoples.

  • The first question assesses whether indigenous peoples were actively involved across the programming cycle, with a focus on their involvement in consultations and decision-making processes.
  • The second question assesses whether the initiative is tailored to address the unique and specific interests of indigenous peoples that may differ from other beneficiaries to the initiative (for instance, does not assume a ‘one size fits all approach’).

Read the short note

Indigenous Procurement Policy

In line with the framework of DFAT’s Indigenous Peoples Strategy, the Australian Government published in May 2015 the first Indigenous Procurement Policy, setting targets for engagement between government and Indigenous businesses.

For the first time, the Commonwealth Government has committed to a procurement target for goods and services from Indigenous businesses. The target is for three per cent of Commonwealth contracts to be awarded to Indigenous businesses by 2020. The Government is committed to ensuring that every government portfolio meets its target.

The policy will put Indigenous businesses at the front and centre of the way the Commonwealth Government does business. Whether through direct contracts, or as part of the supply chain of some of Australia’s biggest companies, the policy will ensure that Indigenous businesses have the chance to compete and showcase the products they have to offer.

This policy is about creating opportunities for these Indigenous businesses to grow and employ more people. It is also about stimulating private investment in new Indigenous businesses.

A strong Indigenous business sector will help drive financial independence, and create wealth and opportunities for Indigenous Australians. It will also provide the basis for Indigenous economic development in regional and remote Australia.

Read the Indigenous Procurement Policy

Australia’s International Engagement

Australia has consistently demonstrated commitment and active engagement on indigenous issues on the international stage.

We continue to actively participate in United Nations’ forums, including attendance at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous peoples (EMRIP).

Australia continues to work with the Human Rights Council to address human rights violations, including those affecting indigenous peoples, and to work closely with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to advance the rights and concerns of indigenous peoples, including Indigenous Australians.

Australia not only works with States to advance the interests of indigenous peoples but also engages in consultations with NGOs and civil society.

Australia contributes to questionnaires from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This work is a collaborative effort to bring about improvements, to increase understanding and the sharing of experience and knowledge, and ultimately setting global norms by which to solve complex problems.

Australia continues to work toward achieving the ends of The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We have been commended for our continued contribution to the Voluntary Fund which enables Indigenous representatives to attend UN sessions and have their voices heard.

Read more about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.

Indigenous Australian woman Megan Davis is currently Chair of the Permanent Forum. She is an international human rights lawyer, and Associate Professor and director of the Indigenous Law Centre, Faculty of Law, UNSW.

Australia regularly attends each session of the Permanent Forum and engages with states and Indigenous representatives on progressing issues of importance to indigenous peoples including Indigenous Australians.

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Human Rights Council – Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP)

The Expert Mechanism has a unique position in the United Nations system, where it provides valuable knowledge and thematic advice to the Human Rights Council. The Expert Mechanism enables the development of in-depth studies that can assist indigenous groups and Members States.

Australia believes the sharing of experience, knowledge, expertise and best practice is invaluable in the ongoing effort to achieve better outcomes for indigenous peoples.

Australia plays an active role during sessions of the EMRIP. During the most recent session (July 2015) Australia made statements outlining continued support for strengthening the Expert Mechanism, and support for indigenous traditional knowledge and culture.

United Nations Human Rights Council – Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In 2001, the Commission on Human Rights decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, as part of the system of thematic Special Procedures.

Indigenous peoples across the world experience the consequences of historical colonization and invasion of their territories, and face discrimination because of their distinct cultures, identities and ways of life.

In recent decades, the international community has given special attention to the human rights situations of indigenous peoples, as shown by the adoption of international standards and guidelines, as well as by the establishment of institutions and bodies that specifically target these peoples’ concerns. The rights of indigenous peoples are further promoted by international and regional human rights mechanisms. (See Indigenous Peoples)

The current Special Rapporteur is Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, of the Philippines (2014-).

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

The first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples was held on 22-23 September 2014. Australia’s Foreign Minister, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, attended the conference. The meeting was an opportunity to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, including pursuing the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Australia continues to confirm its on-going support for the World Conference on Indigenous People, to improve the well-being of Indigenous peoples. Australia actively engaged in the World Conference on Indigenous Issues in September 2014. Australia supports the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and welcomes the continued, full and effective participation by all indigenous peoples in achieving the ends of the Declaration which, while not legally-binding, helps inform the direction of policy, programs and legislation. We continue to engage in discussions around strengthening our policy position to support the Human Rights Council’s consideration of the most effective approach to monitor, evaluate and improve the achievement of the ends of the Declaration.

United Nations: World Conference on Indigenous Peoples


Last Updated: 3 April 2017