Review of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

In 2014, AIATSIS will celebrate its 50 year anniversary. The review is both timely and necessary considering the length of time AIATSIS has provided services to Australia and the fact that the institute and its activities have been the focus of a range of recommendations in a number of recent inquiries.

Purpose of the review

To provide advice to the Minister for Science and Research (the Minister) on how:

  • AIATSIS has been performing against its legislated functions (established in section 5 Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Act 1989);
  • its role as a national research institution could be strengthened to further support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research, higher education and training;
  • AIATSIS contributes to broader Australian Government policy objectives and how this might be strengthened, including in:
    • cultural diversity and social inclusion;
    • Closing the Gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage; and
    • harnessing the resource of Indigenous knowledge to build our nation, economy and society
  • to assist Government in considering its response to the recommendations of recent inquiries in the scope of the review.

The independent review is being undertaken by ACIL Allen Consulting, led by Dr Les Trudzik (Project Leader), Professor Mark Rose (Project Partner), Dr Mark McMillan (Project Partner) and Mr Charlie Tulloch (Project Manager). A reference group has also been established to advise the review team. Reference group members, chosen for their expertise in research, higher education, public sector and Indigenous affairs, are: Professor Ian Anderson and Ms Patricia Turner AM.

The review is expected to report to the Australian Government in late 2013.

Terms of Reference

The review will gather evidence, including through community and professional consultations, to provide an assessment of AIATSIS’ performance against its legislated functions to the Minister on the following matters:

  1. AIATSIS’ current role and functions and future strategic directions, against its legislated objectives;
  2. how AIATSIS meets the needs and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and researchers and whether there is an unmet need;
  3. AIATSIS’ role in supporting the Australian research sector, promoting  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies and developing the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers; and
  4. the nature of its current relationships with universities and a framework for possible future roles in supporting researchers, higher degree by research students, research supervisors and career researchers in areas of Indigenous studies;
  5. the role of AIATSIS in maintaining and promoting the highest standards in ethical research with Indigenous peoples and Indigenous collections management.
  6. the impact and cost effectiveness of the AIATSIS managed grant program (and the Research Grants) and the Indigenous Visiting Research Fellowships employment program;
  7. the place of AIATSIS in conducting and facilitating research in Indigenous knowledge and community based research;
  8. the promotional role of AIATSIS in encouraging a greater understanding in the general community of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities (including through the provision of information, publications and outreach activities); 
  9. AIATSIS’ role in preserving and disseminating information and knowledge about its cultural collection and how the collection can be best utilised and preserved including through digitisation; 
  10. strategies for the expansion, maintenance and management of the digitisation of the cultural resource collection in order to preserve it and make it available to Indigenous communities and individuals and students and researchers; and
  11. whether current circumstances and demands warrant any changes in structure, governance and/or funding to equip AIATSIS to effectively undertake its mission.

Scope of the review

The scope of the review includes an assessment of the following specific recommendation from recent inquiries:

The Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People (The Behrendt Report):

  • Recommendation 28: That the Australian Government undertake a review of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to consider how best to maintain AIATSIS’ unique place in developing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic and research activities and the relationship it has with universities
  • Recommendation 19: that the Australian Government continue to support AIATSIS to digitise and thus further preserve their collection for future generations
  • Recommendation 24: that AIATSIS provide more formal guidance to publicly funded research agencies, universities and researchers on ethical research. 

Our Land, Our Languages – Language Learning in Indigenous Communities (House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Report):

  • Recommendation 28:  Dedicated Indigenous language archive - The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government include in the 2013-14 Budget increased resources for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to carry out the storage and digitisation of Indigenous language materials.
  • Recommendation 29: AIATSIS research funding - The Committee recommends the Commonwealth Government consult with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to determine an appropriate and sustainable funding model in order for it to recommence its research grants program in the 2013-14 Budget.

Venturous Australia – Building Strength in Innovation: Review of the national innovation system (The Cutler Review):

  • Recommendation 7.13: The role of institutions such as the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) should be broadened and strengthened in recognition of the special importance of preserving indigenous collections and the unique value of indigenous traditional knowledge and practices within Australia’s innovation system.


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