About nailsma ltd

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About NAILSMA Ltd.

The North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd. (NAILSMA) delivers large-scale initiatives across northern Australia and is committed to finding practical solutions that support Indigenous people and the management of their lands for future generations. Its culture-based economy approach aims to assist Indigenous people through livelihoods and employment on their country. NAILSMA is an Indigenous owned and managed not-for-profit company. It has a strong track record of delivering award-winning programs in challenging and complex settings.

About the NAILSMA Knowledge Series

The NAILSMA Knowledge Series recognises and provides a forum for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people responsible for land and sea management across north Australia. It is an information point for the dissemination of knowledge from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives on a broad range of issues relevant to land and sea management. The series encompasses a broad range of publication types including, for example, discussion and policy papers, research reports, workshop and conference reports, opinion pieces, and Indigenous Knowledge publications. Publications in the NAILSMA Knowledge Series are available electronically and, in limited cases, in hard copy. Knowledge Series publications and other publications by NAILSMA and its partners or collaborators are available from the NAILSMA Ltd website www.nailsma.org.au.

The views and opinions expressed in the NAILSMA Knowledge Series are not necessarily those of NAILSMA. NAILSMA shall not be responsible in any way whatsoever to any person relying in whole or part on the contents of this publication. To the extent permitted by law, NAILSMA excludes all liability to any person for any consequences, including, but not limited to all losses, damages, costs, expenses, and any other compensation, arising directly or indirectly from using this publication (in part or in whole) and any information or material contained in it.
This report was jointly funded by the National Water Commission and the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Australian Government or the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that the contents of this publication are factually correct, the Commonwealth does not accept responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the contents, and shall not be liable for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the contents of this publication.

Supporting Indigenous Livelihoods

Appropriate Scales of Governance

Patrick Sullivan

Claire Stacey



This project was funded as part of the Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment (NAWFA). NAWFA is a multidisciplinary program being delivered jointly by the Department of Sustainability, Water, Population and Communities and the National Water Commission, in close collaboration with the Office of Northern Australia and State and Territory government agencies.
Copyright 2012 - North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd.

This publication is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced, by any process, without written permission from the publisher.

For requests and enquiries concerning reproduction and rights, contact:

North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd.

PO Box 486


Phone: +61 8 89467673

Fax: +61 8 89466364


National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:
Title: Supporting Indigenous livelihoods – Appropriate scales of governance

Edition: First edition

ISSN 1837-4166

ISBN 978-0-9808524-6-2

Series: North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance
Knowledge Series

Subjects: Indigenous studies, livelihoods, governance, north Australia
Suggested citation:

Sullivan, P., Stacey, C., 2012. Supporting Indigenous livelihoods – Appropriate scales of governance. NAILSMA Knowledge Series 9/2012. North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd. Darwin.

Patrick Sullivan and Gooniyandi elders at Fitzroy Crossing April 2012

Part One: Project Report

Executive Summary

This project was contracted to Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) by the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA) and funded by the Commonwealth government’s Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment (NAWFA), a division of the National Water Commission (NWC). The project team has worked within compressed timelines, over an area of considerable geographical reach, and with an ambitious range of subjects to investigate. It aimed to:

Focus on how well local governments, state governments and the Commonwealth government cooperate together to assist, encourage and support local self-management. If these three levels of government are not working well with the catchment management groups the project will try to understand why. At the end of the project recommendations will be made about how cooperation can be improved and how sustainable employment opportunities can be supported;


produce a report for NAILSMA and the participants that:

  • describes the representative groups and networks for environmental management in the catchment or locality;

  • assesses the current ability of these representative groups and networks to actively manage land and water, influence policy, and control development; and

  • assesses relevant government agencies and their ability to work together, and suggests improvements in their processes.

These aims have been achieved through reference to relevant literature illustrated with selected case examples. NAILSMA chose three widely separated river catchments as research sites – Mitchell River (QLD), Daly River (NT) and Fitzroy River (WA). Remoteness and distance precluded fine-grained fieldwork within the timeframe, but visits to Aboriginal ranger groups and regional Aboriginal reference groups or representatives were made in each of the catchment areas. Impressions gained from these visits have informed background analysis of Indigenous public administration and Cultural and Natural Resource Management (CNRM) in this report.

The report describes how complexity, volatility and diversity require pragmatic experimentalist adaptive eco-system management at the local and regional scales, within an accountability framework of relational contracting. These terms are discussed in the report. Rather than criticise the duplication and fragmentation of government programs, the report suggests administrative complexity may be supportive of these goals, providing that Aboriginal organisations have appropriate technical support and equipment to deal with it.

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