By Heather Gridley FAPS, Manager, Public Interest, APS National Office and Associate Professor Pat Dudgeon FAPS, Chair, Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association

Click here to view The Boatshed Declaration

The true spirit of our country is based on love and respect.
Geoffrey Stokes, Kalgoorlie community elder

On June 1st and 2nd 2009, over 40 researchers from across Australia met at the University of Western Australia Boatshed in Perth for a Roundtable discussion focused on research concerning racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The APS, together with the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA), co-hosted the Roundtable alongside several other key organisations - the Human Rights Commission, the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, WA, the School of Indigenous Studies UWA, and the University of Notre Dame Australia. The Roundtable was initiated by AIPA Chair and APS Fellow Dr Pat Dudgeon, who saw it as one way to renew the momentum for combating racism that was generated a decade ago by the APS Position Paper Racism and prejudice: Psychological perspectives (1997).

Despite the watershed occasion of the Prime Minister's Apology to the Indigenous people of Australia, the task of moving from the rhetoric to the reality of people's lives remains a national imperative. Racist discourses still permeate many of our key institutions as well as much of the public debate on issues such as reconciliation and Indigenous rights. The Roundtable was based on the conviction that high quality research informing public policy and everyday practice must be at the heart of our endeavours to understand and combat racism in all its forms. Australia has produced some outstanding scholars in the area - for example, Augoustinos, Walker, Reser and Pedersen from within the psychology discipline, and more recently, Paradies, Dunn and Moreton-Robinson from other fields of enquiry. Yet despite their staunch efforts, research about racism in Australia has not taken the central role it warrants and deserves.

The Racism Roundtable gathering was also based on the recognition that combating racism is an interdisciplinary undertaking, and yet we rarely have conversations beyond our own field. We all belong to different interpretive communities pursuing parallel lines of enquiry, and the interdisciplinary whole will almost certainly be greater than the sum of the parts.

It was also deemed timely to consider anti-racism strategies and make recommendations to government. The Northern Territory intervention is seen by many as a racist political action, yet it could rapidly become another ‘quick fix' template unless its underpinnings and effects are critically monitored and examined. The Roundtable organisers acknowledged that racism takes many forms and has many targets, including in the Australian context both Indigenous people and other cultural minority groups - whether refugees, Muslims, older migrants, or second generation Australians. This initiative focused on racism towards Indigenous people in an Australian context.

Aims of the Racism Roundtable

The specific aims of the Racism Roundtable were to:

  • Discuss current racism research in Australia
  • Overview policies and initiatives about racism towards Indigenous Australians
  • Overview anti-racism strategies
  • Determine future actions such as influencing policy, developing interventions and making recommendations to government
  • Discuss writing a book about racism towards Indigenous Australians
  • Review teaching of racism awareness studies in the university curriculum
  • Develop a forum for the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology Conference in Melbourne, 2010.

Roundtable proceedings

The two-day event was structured around eight sessions involving a number of catalytic presentations followed by small group discussions facilitated by designated ‘provocateurs'. Participants were invited to consider, among other questions, what was significant about each issue, what is required for advancement, and what they might say if they had three minutes with ‘the decision makers'.

The first session introduced a reality check with a presentation on the Northern Territory intervention by Jawoyn Association CEO, Wes Miller from Katherine. While some aspects of the intervention were welcome where they meant increased health services, for example, Mr Miller spoke of the community's powerlessness in the face of media constructions of any opposition implying disagreement with the protection of children. A powerful image he drew was of separate supermarket queues for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal customers, with Aboriginal people often being unsure how much credit was left on their Basics Card, and having to put goods back on the shelves as the ‘white' queue looked on. Group responses to the ‘What we would say to Minister Jenny Macklin?' question included stressing the importance of a capacity building rather than a welfare agenda, a suggestion that the group of researchers present could form an evidence-based ‘think tank' for government, and the need to re-set the power relationships as well as our emotional relationships with each other (as a nation), and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

The second session focused on efforts by social psychologists to quantify racism in research. Among the questions raised by catalyst presenters Anne Pedersen and Kevin Dunn was whether, and which, anti-racism strategies promote lasting change. They presented research findings to suggest that prejudice and its antecedents differ depending on location and cultural group, and so any strategies need to be tailored and targeted accordingly because they can backfire. Strategies that have been evaluated include the perils and advantages of inter-group contact, deconstructing whiteness and privilege, and consensus-building and invoking social norms, with a ‘cookbook' of strategies producing promising results.

The afternoon sessions on Day 1 looked at the impacts of racism on Indigenous people and communities themselves. Yin Paradies argued that strong evidence now exists for the health impacts of racism, both directly in terms of physical and mental health symptoms, and indirectly, via restricted access to culturally safe services. Thus racism is a public health issue with real effects that in turn can set up expectations of poor treatment at health centres, creating a fear of institutions and a reluctance to seek appropriate support. Discussion focused on racism as a continuing fact of Australian life, and the pernicious effect of the institutionalisation of racism on both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. In one of the most confronting presentations, Juli Coffin provided an example of internalised racism in the form of intraracial violence amongst Aboriginal youth becoming normative behaviour. When youth in general, but particularly Indigenous youth, are constantly depicted in a problematic fashion in the media, the process of internalising and believing these negative stereotypes has damaging psychological and social consequences for whole communities.

The program for Day 2 included sessions on discourse analysis and what is controversially known as ‘whiteness studies', where the focus is on bringing culture and racism into awareness within the dominant community that can usually afford to ignore such issues. Martha Augoustinos and Christopher Sonn stressed the need to see racism as a shared cultural issue rather than a matter of individual attitudes or psychological characteristics. The discussion moved to the issue of education for cultural competence and cultural safety across all disciplines, with questions such as: Who gets to decide what racism is? Who are the experts? Who produces the knowledge and how is it used? How do ‘white' people go into ‘black' spaces and be respectful?

The second day's discussion groups began to focus on charting responses to racism nationally and locally to move the Roundtable ‘beyond a talkfest'. There was recognition that natural leaders within Aboriginal communities need to be supported in speaking up - perhaps via a new representative body - but that supporting Aboriginal voices on important issues need not mean assuming there should be unanimity of opinion across diverse communities. Anti-racism initiatives must be creative, critical, challenging and sustainable. Challenging entrenched media representations, systematic campaigns to get leaders talking, legal frameworks to ensure adequate protection of human rights, and structural change which goes beyond the politicians and bureaucrats - all of these were among the measures suggested to combat racism in Australia today.

Outcomes of the Roundtable

Among the immediate outcomes of the two-day gathering were a group submission to the National Human Rights Consultation, a ‘Boatshed Declaration' (reproduced over the page), and letters to government ministers. In the longer term, proposed initiatives included a book bringing together the expertise encompassed by the Roundtable participants in a more permanent way, an ongoing ‘think tank' to advise policy makers, and a ‘rapid response team' to challenge racist representations in the media and popular discourse.

The APS was represented at the Racism Roundtable by Bob Montgomery, Lyn Littlefield, Anne Lipzker, Amanda Gordon and Heather Gridley and is proud to have been a co-host of this landmark event.


Australian Psychological Society (1997). Racism and prejudice: Psychological perspectives. APS Position Statement. Melbourne: Author.


Hosts of the Racism Roundtable

Associate Professor Pat Dudgeon, Chair, Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association; Professor Jill Milroy, University of Western Australia; Mr Romlie Mokak, CEO, Australian Indigenous Doctors Association; Professor Fiona Stanley, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Western Australia; Professor Bob Montgomery, President, Australian Psychological Society; Professor Lyn Henderson-Yates, University of Notre Dame Australia, Broome; and Commissioner Tom Calma; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Race Discrimination Commissioner, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission


Professor Martha Augoustinos, University of Adelaide, SA; Professor Peter Buckskin, University of South Australia; Associate Professor Tracey Bunda,Yunggorendi, First Nations Centre for Higher Education and Research, Flinders University, SA; Associate Professor Juli Coffin, Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health, WA; Dr Dawn Darlaston-Jones, University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle; Professor Rob Donovan, Curtin University, WA; Professor Neil Drew, University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle; Professor Kevin Dunn, University of Western Sydney, NSW; Dr Marisa Gilles, Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health, WA; Ms Belle Glaskin, Canning Division of General Practice, WA and Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association; Ms Amanda Gordon, Director, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Armchair Psychology Practice, NSW; Ms Heather Gridley, Manager, Public Interest, Australian Psychological Society; Professor Bernard Guerin, University of South Australia and Desert Knowledge Collaborative Research Centre; Dr Pauline Guerin, Flinders University, SA; Dr Cheryl Kickett-Tucker, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, WA; Ms Amy Lamoin, Senior Policy Officer, Race Discrimination Unit, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; Professor Carmen Lawrence, University of Western Australia; Associate Professor Deborah Lehmann, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, WA; Ms Anne Lipzker, Director, Australian Psychological Society; Professor Lyn Littlefield, Executive Director, Australian Psychological Society; Associate Professor Dennis McDermott, Flinders University, SA; Professor Craig McGarty, Murdoch University, WA; Associate Professor David Mellor, Deakin University, Victoria; Mr Wes Miller, CEO, Jawoyn Association, NT; Professor Helen Milroy, University of Western Australia; Professor Martin Nakata, University of Technology, NSW; Ms Ashleigh Owen, University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle; Dr Yin Paradies, University of Melbourne; Dr Anne Pedersen, Murdoch University, WA; Lt General John Sanderson, Chair, Indigenous Implementation Board, WA; Dr Christopher Sonn, Victoria University; Mr Geoffrey Stokes, Community Elder, Kalgoorlie, WA; Emeritus Professor Lance Twomey, Curtin University, WA; Ms Karen Ugle, Yorgum Aboriginal Counselling Services and Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association; Professor Iain Walker, Murdoch University, WA; Associate Professor Roz Walker, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, WA; Ms Aileen Walsh, PhD student, University of Western Australia; Ms Maude Walsh, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, WA; Associate Professor Ted Wilkes, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, WA; Professor Joan Winch, Nyoongar Elder, Perth, WA; Dr Michael Wright, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Western Australia; Ms Whitney Darlaston-Jones, University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle; Ms Faye D'Souza, University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle; Mr Dorian Gray, University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle; Ms Annie Lee, University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle

* Please note that institutional affiliation does not imply institutional endorsement of the Declaration 


The Boatshed Declaration 

We, the undersigned make this Declaration to reassert the rights of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be:

  • Acknowledged as the First Nations peoples of Australia; and
  • Recognised as the legitimate people to take real responsibility for their education, health and wellbeing, with the respectful support of Australian governments.

We believe that for Australia to fulfil its considerable potential for future generations, it must acknowledge the terrible injustice done to its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples - an injustice that continues to disadvantage all our futures.

We believe that this recognition will be the basis for re-strengthening the Australian national identity to the benefit of all and future Australians.

We believe that a strong and confident national identity is one that begins with its First Nations peoples, their knowledge, heritage, and spiritual connection to the land and seas.

We propose four areas for action:

  1. Constitutional - that there be a preamble to the Constitution that recognises the rights of First Nations peoples, followed immediately by the establishment of a treaty that details a formal agreement between the Australian Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and a framework for national action.
  2. Policy - that policies that affect and impact on Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be based on their full involvement and engagement to ensure appropriate agendas and appropriate levels of resourcing are applied.
  3. Practice - that effective and genuine partnerships with governments and capacity building agendas be recognised as essential pathways to improving the outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' education, health and wellbeing.
  4. Standards - that all actions must be based on, and be an expression of, the articles in the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly Article 3 (the Right to Self Determination) and Article 42 (calling on the states and agencies of the United Nations to implement the Declaration).

The Roundtable, in reviewing research data and evidence, identified some key factors and issues that act as barriers to the progress of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples towards improved futures.

  1. Racism against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples exists in various forms and in all systems in Australia today.
  2. Racism has a destructive impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' education, health and wellbeing, well beyond its immediate impact.
  3. Racism works strongly against all agendas which aim to close the gaps in health and other outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians.

We call upon the Prime Minister and the First Ministers of Australia to initiate a new national plan of action beginning with:

  1. Constitutional protection against racial discrimination;
  2. The reconsideration of the methods of the Northern Territory intervention to better reflect the aspirations for, and of, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, while maintaining any gains that have been made; and
  3. The formal recognition of the capacity and the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to self-determine their futures.

Our key principle for a plan of action is simple:

We believe that the future happiness and wellbeing of all Australians and their future generations will be enhanced by valuing and taking pride in Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples - the oldest living cultures of humanity.

University of Western Australia Boatshed, Perth
1st and 2nd June 2009
Click here to view signatories 

To download a copy of The Boatshed Declaration, please click here - Acrobat icon - small (833kb)


InPsych August 2009