Respect and recognition

Local councils may interact with Aboriginal peoples on a range of levels including as residents, ratepayers, business owners, land holders and consumers.  It is important that the specific cultural needs of Aboriginal people are planned for in all council function and service activities.

Local councils have important roles and responsibilities regarding Aboriginal peoples. They must:

  • consult and negotiate comprehensively with Aboriginal communities about their needs and aspirations
  • ensure council services  and infrastructure are adequate and equitable in meeting the needs of Aboriginal people and their communities ensure that services are developed in a way that is culturally appropriate and develops the potential of Aboriginal people
  • engage with Aboriginal communities to ensure that local decisions address the issues and concerns of Aboriginal communities
  • promote a partnership approach with local Aboriginal communities
  • work with Aboriginal communities to promote the protection and awareness of Aboriginal culture and heritage in line with the wishes of the local Aboriginal community
  • work with Aboriginal communities to promote economic development opportunities and Aboriginal employment strategies

Aboriginal participation in local government

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in NSW are under-represented in local government. Statistics show 1.9% of all councillors identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, compared to 2.5% of the NSW population as a whole.

Aboriginal people have a great deal to contribute to the cultural, social and economic development of a community and councils can better service their communities if they harness the insights and talents of Aboriginal people.

It is in every council’s interest to encourage and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to stand for council and contribute their unique perspectives and networks to the local government process.

What can councils do to boost Aboriginal participation in local government?

There are a myriad of ways in which councils can act to boost the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people in local government. Actions range from encouraging individuals to run as candidates, the provision of customised support for successful candidates, mentoring programs or the implementation of collaborative mechanisms to facilitate input into policy and decision-making.

Briefing sessions for potential candidates

Councils can play an active part in running information sessions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people wanting to stand as councillors in local government elections.

These sessions can inform Aboriginal people about:

  • The role and purpose of local government, along with information about the relevant local government area
  • Councillors’ roles, responsibilities and expectations
  • The electoral process, and support available to successful candidates
  • Council policies in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents and ratepayers (e.g. engagement, respect, specific employment programs, advisory committees, relevant CSP objectives etc)
  • Council services provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents and ratepayers
  • Any mentoring programs available, and the personal experiences of existing councillors.
  • Specific policies and strategies to assist Aboriginal residents and ratepayers (e.g. Aboriginal Advisory Committee details, Aboriginal Liaison Officer contact, Aboriginal employment strategy/pathways).

Support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Councillors

All successful council candidates should receive free training from their Council and the NSW Government. Councils should also provide tools to help councillors carry out their role, and help meet expenses for costs such as:

  • Further training and professional development
  • Attendance at conferences
  • Travel on council-related business
  • Telephone for official council calls
  • Care for dependents such as children.


Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal councillors have the opportunity to serve as mentors to Aboriginal candidates. Mentor responsibilities include:

  • providing the candidate with access to information, including council publications and business papers, the procedures and protocols of council, and engagement with the broader community
  • assisting the candidate in understanding the realities of political life and the election process
  • respecting the confidentiality of the candidate
  • acting as a suitable role model for the candidate.

Aboriginal advisory/consultative committees

These committees are established by council resolution under section 355 of the Local Government Act 1993, and also provide:

  • an opportunity for key issues to be identified and a common approach to their resolution negotiated within resources available
  • A formal avenue through which Aboriginal communities can raise issues of concern.