From Members to Leaders? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Participation in Political Parties (IN170100036)

Led by Associate Professor Michelle Evans (University of Melbourne) and Professor Duncan McDonnell (Griffith University), this 3-year ARC Discovery Indigenous project investigates contemporary Indigenous party membership across Australia and examining the leadership opportunities and challenges experienced by grassroots A&TSI party members.  I am the Research Fellow on the project, and the research team also includes Indigenous PhD candidate Bart Stanford.

As part of the project, we have been interviewing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elected politicians, candidates and grassroots party members across all the states and territories who have been involved over the last decade, as well as party officials in the Labor, Liberal, National and CLP parties.  So far, we have conducted interviews in Darwin, Alice Springs, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide, with trips to Brisbane, Canberra and Hobart scheduled for later in the year.

The project poses the following inter-related questions:

  • How do A&TSI members, candidates and elected representatives conceive of their roles within the major parties? How do they view the pathways to leadership positions (as candidates, internal party officials and in policymaking) offered by parties?
  • How do party officials and elites see the role of A&TSI members? How do they recruit and prepare members for leadership positions as candidates and/or as officials within the party organisational hierarchy? What opportunities are there for A&TSI leadership roles in developing policy platforms?
  • What differences do we find across Australia in the relationships between the two major parties and their A&TSI members as regards the above leadership roles? Do some relationships work better than others? Why?

The project first maps out and investigates A&TSI participation and leadership roles in the major parties across all states and territories in Australia. It then focuses on two territorial case studies that exemplify A&TSI elected representative presence and relative absence: the Northern Territory and New South Wales. The Liberal Party (LP), Country Liberal Party (CLP) and Australian Labor Party (ALP) in each case study area have already agreed to facilitate the research, as has the NSW Aboriginal Labor Network. We thus have an exceptional opportunity to address a very significant social and political issue for Australia.