Learning from experience

Exploring a shared value approach to Indigenous affairs

Featured in

THE CONFERENCE OF Indigenous leaders from the public sector, convened by the Australian and New Zealand School of Government in Sydney in October 2017, was organised around the question, ‘Can’t we do better?’ There was universal agreement that the simple answer is yes, but there is still much work to be done to ensure that we do better. The conference highlighted the critical need for genuine engagement with Aboriginal communities about policies that affect them:

Indigenous communities are sceptical of consultation, and don’t see it as a substitute for full involvement in decision-making. Delegates from community had a clear message, that they want to be involved in policy design from its inception, and in implementing programs, not once the big decisions are already fixed.

Professor Ken Smith, Dean of ANZSOG, highlighted this theme at the conference dinner when he said:

We need to ensure that Indigenous people are represented at all stages of policy development, that their voices are heard and their concerns met. Until this happens, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities will not get the public services they need and deserve.

It is important to note that this call for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to have a clear role and an equal voice in relation to matters that affect their lives is consistent with a growing movement in that regard. The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for ‘the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution’, and concludes: ‘In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.’

There is a need for a more collaborative and place-based approach to the development and implementation of public policies affecting First Peoples that includes representatives from government, the corporate sector, the Aboriginal community and not-for-profit organisations using the framework of ‘shared value’.


THE CONCEPT OF ‘creating shared value’ or simply ‘shared value’ was developed by Professor Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, and outlined in a seminal article in the Harvard Business Review in 2011. ‘Shared value can be defined as policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in which it operates. Shared value creation focuses on identifying and expanding the connections between societal and economic progress.’

While the writers largely focus on the opportunities and benefits available to corporations if they adopt this approach to their businesses, it is important to note that Porter and Kramer also point to opportunities to be gained by governments and the not-for-profit sector by creating shared value: ‘The principle of shared value creation cuts across the traditional divide between the responsibilities of business and those of government or civil society. From society’s perspective, it does not matter what types of organisations created the value. What matters is that benefits are delivered by those organisations – or combinations of organisations – that are best positioned to achieve the most impact for the least cost.’

Consequently, they argue, all sectors need to develop new ways of working together: ‘Shared value creation will involve new and heightened forms of collaboration. While some shared value opportunities are possible for a company to seize on its own, others will benefit from insights, skills and resources that cut across profit/non-profit and private/public boundaries.

Place-based methods are particularly important in this approach. While state or national frameworks will inevitably be required, place-based solutions enable services to be developed that are appropriate to the local context. Dr Martin Parkinson, secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, highlighted the need for local solutions in his Wentworth Lecture last year:

So it is not as if the challenges are unknown or intractable – they may require different interventions than those which we have historically directed towards Indigenous Australia, particularly remote Australia. So the task for the APS, and my department in particular, is to differentiate between the sources of challenge and disadvantage, and to recognise the diversity in both aspiration and need across the country. We cannot do that with a one-size-fits-all approach, which is why working with empowered communities on place-based solutions has to be a key part of our approach.

A place-based approach to public policy is not new. The Standing Council on Law and Justice wrote a brief in 2012 on ‘place-based initiatives and Indigenous justice’ stating:

…place-based initiatives require governments to make deep changes on at least two fronts. First, to change the delivery of services which is traditionally done through functional agencies at either a state/territory or federal level, with only minimal co-ordination between those agencies. Second, to shift away from the fairly uniform delivery of services, with priorities determined by centrally located government officers and without significant input from the communities intended to benefit. Place-based initiatives challenge governments to move towards less familiar methods characterised by networks, collaboration, community engagement and flexibility.

These ‘place-based contexts’ are equally relevant when developing an approach to all aspects of Indigenous public policy with consideration given to Aboriginal cultural issues and the large number of different Aboriginal cultural practices across Australia. Norman Tindale’s well-known map of Aboriginal tribal and language territories provides a simple, graphic illustration of this diversity.


RIO TINTO, ONE of the world’s largest mining companies with extensive interests in Australia, has an overarching regional agreement which encompasses a large section of the Pilbara region in Western Australia. This regional agreement signifies a partnering relationship with a number of traditional owner groups. However, each individual traditional owner group in the Pilbara has its own short-term priorities and long-term aspirations for its members. These priorities and aspirations are often reflective of each group’s individual cultural practices and social structures. Despite their perceived geographic proximity, no two Pilbara Aboriginal groups are the same and an understanding of this nuanced diversity enables the development of meaningful partnerships which foster successful and sustainable outcomes.

It is important to note, however, that although each individual land-access agreement is unique to a specific traditional owner group, the processes and framework for effective agreement making remains consistent. This is highlighted in Rio Tinto’s publication Why Agreements Matter.

Over twenty years ago Rio Tinto deliberately forged a new direction for its engagement with Indigenous Australians. The passing of the Native Title Act in 1993 was the catalyst for changing how the mining industry did business. Rio Tinto was at the forefront of this change, entering into the Yandicoogina Land Use Agreement in 1997 with Gumala Aboriginal Corporation as the representative of the Niapali, Bunjima and Innawonga native title claimants. This was the first major land-use agreement to be signed in Australia, and Rio Tinto is proud of this legacy and the benchmark its land access agreements continue to set for the mining industry.

The partnership preserved by these land-use agreements ensures that Indigenous Australians are rightfully recognised as one of Rio Tinto’s most important stakeholders and partners. The agreements signify the business’s respect for the traditional custodianship over land on which its mining activities take place, and provide traditional owners an opportunity to benefit socially and economically from these activities.

Rio Tinto now has over thirty land-use agreements with Aboriginal groups across Australia. These agreements acknowledge traditional owners’ connection to country and provide a platform for creating a sustainable economic future. They also provide certainty for Rio Tinto’s operations by enabling the business to secure its access to its operations and plan for the long term. These agreements are world-leading and will have an intergenerational impact. They are a product of extensive dialogue between various stakeholders during complex and often tough negotiations.

The ten land access agreements Rio Tinto currently has in place in the Pilbara are testament to the many years of consultation and negotiation conducted between traditional owners, government and Rio Tinto. Fundamental to these agreements is the notion that Aboriginal people and their local communities should share in the benefits from mining activities taking place on their land.

The intention of these agreements is to provide local Aboriginal people with opportunities for economic empowerment, wealth creation and economic sustainability. As a mining company, Rio Tinto sees itself as having a key role in supporting education, employment and business opportunities for local Aboriginal people. Rio Tinto believes that these three fundamentals remain the most crucial indicators of economic empowerment and wealth creation for any Australian.

Rio Tinto recognises that education remains a key indicator in ‘Closing the Gap’ on Indigenous disadvantage. Enabling access to education will ensure the next generation of local Aboriginal people have the skills and capacity to capitalise on employment and business opportunities, with the aim of generating Indigenous senior business leaders and entrepreneurs.

Sustainable economic outcomes cannot be achieved without a steadfast focus on education, which is why the federal government announced a $138 million Indigenous education package in May 2017. Following this announcement and a consultation process involving the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and our local communities, Rio Tinto recommitted to funding the Clontarf Foundation (in partnership with the federal and state governments) for an additional three years.

Rio Tinto also has well-developed partnerships with not-for-profit organisations locally and nationally, which are designed to deliver specific outcomes for Indigenous people and their local communities. Their community investment processes have changed significantly in the past twenty years, transitioning from a sponsorship and donation model to the formulation of strategic partnerships and agreements. However, the fundamental understanding that Indigenous people are the most important stakeholder in the development and success of their local and national partnerships remains unchanged. For a partnership to be successful, communities must be involved throughout the entire process – not just in the consultation process, but in deciding which programs best meet the specific needs of their people and community.

Another key element captured in Rio Tinto’s agreements is the commitment to managing significant cultural heritage sites within the company’s operational footprint. Rio Tinto’s heritage-management team conduct extensive consultation and surveys throughout the Pilbara with traditional owners to identify areas of cultural significance. Following this engagement, Rio Tinto and traditional owners enact comprehensive heritage-management plans to manage culturally significant areas which may interface with Rio Tint’s operations.

Rio Tinto’s agreements set out a framework for working in partnership with Aboriginal people, with commitments and accountability for both the company and traditional owner groups. By working alongside and in partnership with traditional owners, Rio Tinto is delivering shared value: helping create sustainable long-term futures for communities beyond the life of mining, while running effective and profitable operations.


PLACE-BASED ARRANGEMENTS and shared-value solutions are essential to effective Indigenous engagement practices, and both organisations and governments need to adopt this approach. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model for Indigenous engagement due to the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. As an example, the requirements for Indigenous people in the Pilbara will differ greatly from Indigenous communities in Far North Queensland – and these differences need to be recognised and considered during both the negotiation and implementation phases of any land-use agreement or partnership.

A recent report prepared for the Western Australian government’s Regional Services Reform Unit by the Centre for Social Impact, Resilient Families, Strong Communities: Mapping Service Expenditure and Outcomes in the Pilbara and the Kimberley, highlighted the sub-regional differences in both expenditure and outcomes in relation to these issues. The report recommends a continued sub-regional focus for measuring outcomes and expenditure and the establishment of a consistent framework for this ongoing work.

The report, however, is focused solely on government expenditure and investment in relation to programs to reduce Aboriginal disadvantage. In many regions of Australia, however, there are substantial investments being made by mining companies and other corporate sector organisations, particularly those organisations with Reconciliation Action Plans. The investments made by Rio Tinto that were outlined earlier are but one example of this commitment.

Perhaps it is time to develop place-based processes that bring together governments, the corporate and community sectors and, most importantly, the Aboriginal community to explore a new collaborative approach to these investment decisions so that we can create shared value.

One approach that would be useful in this regard merges the concept of sustainability-values mapping with the principles behind the concept of creating shared value. This new approach is known as shared-value mapping. The process of exploring different values in a place-based workshops promotes a better understanding of the different values in that place and highlights the opportunities for collaboration. As Associate Professor Laura Stocker and Dr Gary Burke, from Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, who have developed a digital approach to ‘sustainability values mapping’, explain:

We begin the overlay mapping process by developing an understanding of a place in terms of its layers: cultural, social, economic and ecological. Thinking of a place in terms of its four ‘layers’, we can develop a visually and analytically powerful method that can be related directly to a map of that place. Naturally, a place is not literally made up of these abstract layers, but they are used here as a means to deconstruct, analyse and reconstruct our understanding of a place. It is precisely our relationships expressed within the layers and the relationships among the layers that are of interest. The synergistic nature of sustainability [or shared value], and the key to its assessment in this current method, lies in understanding where and how the layers interact to create these synergies.

The time has come to take up the invitation of Indigenous leaders at Uluru to ‘walk with [them] in a movement of the Australian people for a better future’; to listen to the words of Martin Parkinson about ‘working with empowered communities on place-based solutions’; and to explore these new collaborative and placed-based approaches to dealing with a wide range of Indigenous issues.

Share article

About the author

Joanne Farrell

Joanne Farrell has worked in the mining industry since 1981, following an earlier career as an economist. She has a BSc (Psychology and Economics),...

More from this edition

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.