Australia Council changes guidelines on proof of Aboriginal identity

The Australia Council for the Arts has amended its guidelines for assessing applications for funding from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for Indigenous Arts grants following a submission provided on behalf of well-known Aboriginal actor Uncle Jack Charles. Together with the Fitzroy Legal Service, the HRLC assisted Uncle Jack to make a submission to the Australia Council outlining how its policy of requiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to provide a certificate or letter of authenticity of their Aboriginality was inconsistent with existing legal principle and should be amended.

The submission outlined how the Australia Council’s strict eligibility requirement may have resulted in a situation where an Aboriginal person or Torres Strait Islander is denied funding because he/she is unable to produce a certificate or letter from a recognised organisation that confirms his/her Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander identity. The existing legal definition of an “Aboriginal person” involves a more flexible consideration of three elements: (i) descent; (ii) self-identification; and (iii) community acceptance. Accordingly, the submission explained that it would be more appropriate for the Council to establish a set of guidelines which are flexible enough to be applied so as to accommodate the individual circumstances of each applicant. This approach is particularly important given ‘the widely divergent and differing histories and experiences of the process by which an Aboriginal person acquires and develops an Aboriginal identity’.

On 28 June 2013, the Australia Council announced a new application model which substantially adopted the recommendations made in the submission.

The submission made on behalf of Uncle Jack Charles was prepared with the pro bono assistance of DLA Piper and Ron Merkel QC.