Washington International Law Journal


Joshua M. Piper


The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (“ATSIC”) opened its doors in 1990 with the main objectives of advising the Australian Commonwealth Government (“Government”) on Indigenous policy and providing services for Indigenous communities and individuals. Fifteen years later, with Indigenous living standards still well behind other Australians, the Government deemed ATSIC a failure and abruptly gutted and abolished the Commission. At the same time, the government transitioned to its New Arrangements in Indigenous Affairs program (“New Arrangements”). The New Arrangements are based on two fundamental ideas: better coordination between governments and agencies; and, most important, engaging and empowering Indigenous communities to run their own affairs and find their own solutions. To implement these ideas, the Government relies on negotiated agreements as the best way to reformulate Indigenous-State relations. Under this model, Government Indigenous Coordination Centers will negotiate agreements directly with local Indigenous representative bodies to remedy issues identified by Indigenous peoples themselves. As such, the New Arrangements framework successfully incorporates the principles of modern contractualism, which has potential to fulfill Indigenous peoples’ desires for sovereignty and justice. However, in transitioning to the New Arrangements, the Government acted hastily and unilaterally, potentially undermining the success of its new program. With some adjustments and additions, the Government can strengthen the new policy and redress any harm caused by the quick and uncompromising transition.

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