Investigating how politics and policy impact mining practices and environmental sustainability

This program focuses on the way in which politics, public policies and institutions affect the impact of the mining, oil and gas industries on social and environmental sustainability. It examines issues surrounding resource development on Indigenous lands and relations between Indigenous, corporate and state actors and their consequences for the social and cultural sustainability of Indigenous peoples.

Program leader: Professor Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh

Professor Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh recently spent a week in Santiago, Chile, at the invitation of Professor Claudio Fuentes of the Universidad Diego Portales, to discuss recognition of Indigenous rights in Australia and Canada. Some 12 per cent of Chile’s Indigenous population identifies are Indigenous, with the Mapuche people of southern Chile the largest Indigenous group at some 1.7 million people. Chile has historically done little to provide recognition to its Indigenous peoples, and during the Pinochet regime in particular Indigenous lands were made available for large-scale exploitation by industrial interests. In recent years a number of formal steps have been taken to provide recognition, including Chile’s 2008 signing of International Labor Organisation Convention 169 on Tribal and Indigenous Peoples. However practical action to ensure that formal recognition translates into greater Indigenous control over development on Indigenous lands has been slow in coming. There is considerable interest in Chile in what Australia and Canada have done in this regard.

In addition to meeting with researchers and conducting interviews, Ciaran delivered a public lecture at the Centre for Intercultural and Indigenous Studies, Universidad Diego Portales, on the theme ‘Indigenous peoples rights and extractivism: the Australian and Canadian experience’ (available in Enlgish and Spanish at He also had the opportunity to address and engage with representatives of Chile’s business community at a lunch hosted by the Chilean business organisation ICARE.  The 60 attendees displayed a wide range of attitudes towards recognition of Indigenous rights. Some expressed outright hostility, while others accepted the need for recognition, and focused on the practical steps business can take to develop a more productive engagement with Chile’s Indigenous peoples.

Ciaran plans to pay a longer visit to Chile as party of a sabbatical in the second half of 2020, and to have the opportunity to undertake field research with Mapuche and Atacama peoples dealing with mining and forestry activity on their ancestral lands.


Centre members Professors Ciaran O'Faircheallaigh and Duncan McDonnell combined with the Indigenous Research Unit to present a Special Seminar by Thomas Mayor on the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Thomas shared his insights in relation to the consensus at Uluru, his travels throughout the nation with the Uluru Statement Canvas, and what all Australians can do to achieve the Statement's ultimate vision: A Constitutionally Enshrined First Nations Voice and Makarrata.  Elder Bill Buchanan from Reconciliation Queensland and Heron Loban from the Griffith Law School contributed to the seminar.

Watch presentation here

2017 Distinguished Lecture

Prof Ciaran O'Faircheallaigh

Professor Ciaran O'Faircheallaigh's Distinguished Lecture 2017

Mining royalty payments to Aboriginal landowners in remote Australia should represent a boon to what are among this country’s most disadvantaged communities. But the record of outcomes from these payments is mixed, and the very real successes that have been achieved are often overshadowed by tales of waste and lost opportunities. In this lecture Professor O'Faircheallaigh draws on research conducted on the impact of mining royalties over three decades to explain successes and failures, and argue that the explanation has much to tell us about the governance of Aboriginal Australia more broadly. Success comes when Aboriginal people control decision making and develop accountability and management mechanisms that make sense in terms of their own social and cultural values and practices. The stubborn refusal of Australian governments to recognise and apply this lesson to policy development and implementation more broadly helps explain the continuing social and economic problems facing Aboriginal Australia. It also provides important insights into the nature of Australia’s relationship with its First Peoples.


Following on from the 2017 Distinguished Lecture, Professor Ciaran O'Faircheallaigh has produced the paper, Mining Royalty Payments and the Governance of Aboriginal Australia you can assess the paper here.

The Powerpoint presentation is also available by clicking here.

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