New research project -From Members to Leaders? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Participation in Political Parties

I’m thrilled to announce that Dr Duncan McDonnell (Griffith Uni) and I have received an Australian Research Council Discovery Indigenous Award to examine Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in Australia’s major political parties and the leadership opportunities and challenges experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander party members.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (A&TSI) have always been underrepresented in Federal and State parliaments. Although there are more A&TSI representatives now than at any previous time, no territory, state or federal parliament has ever included a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives proportional to their share of the population. Indeed, some states have never returned a single federal or state A&TSI representative. In recent decades, parliamentary commissions have therefore called on political parties to make greater efforts to recruit A&TSI members and promote them into leadership positions such as candidates for elections and/or internal party organisation leadership roles (NSW, 1998; QLD, 2003). Doing so, the commissions concluded, would significantly benefit A&TSI communities and wider Australian society by helping to give A&TSI citizens a more prominent place within democratic processes.

The proposed project speaks to this issue by investigating contemporary A&TSI party membership across Australia and examining the leadership opportunities and challenges experienced by grassroots A&TSI party members. In answering the overarching research question of whether, and how, A&TSI participation in parties translates into leadership, 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?

Bringing together our joint expertise in A&TSI leadership and political parties, 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.

So if you are interested to participate in the project, follow the project and support the project please contact us directly via twitter @MEvansAs @duncanmcdonnell

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