We are committed to setting high standards in ethics in health care and research. 

Release of the revised guidelines

NHMRC has released two revised guidelines:

These documents replace the previous Values and Ethics: Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research 2003 and Keeping Research on Track: A guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about health research ethics 2005. These older documents have now been revoked.

The new guidelines have been revised and updated to ensure they are contemporary and provide relevant advice about ethical conduct in research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The two revised guidelines work with the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research and the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research and provide more specific information about ethical conduct in research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities. They should also be read alongside the Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies 2012, developed by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

The Guidelines Framework shows how all of the relevant research guidelines in Australia are linked and provide the framework for how researchers and participants should be working together on research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities. Adherence to these guidelines will be a requirement of the NHMRC funding agreement.

Guidelines Framework (PDF, 96KB)

Development of the revised guidelines

Evaluation of previous guidelines In 2013, NHMRC commissioned an evaluation of the previous guidelines. This was undertaken on behalf of NHMRC by the Lowitja Institute, in conjunction with AIATSIS. The evaluation included extensive consumer engagement via consultation and workshops held in all states and territories. The evaluation produced a report and accompanying literature review that included various recommendations for the revision of the two original guidelines:

Report

Evaluation of the National Health and Medical Research Council documents: Values and Ethics: Guidelines for ethical conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research 2003 and Keeping Research on Track: a guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about health research ethics 2005 (PDF, 1MB)  

Literature Review

Researching Right Way - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research ethics: a domestic and international review (PDF, 956KB)  

IREG Review Working Committee In 2015, NHMRC established the Indigenous Research Ethics Guidelines (IREG) Review Working Committee to revise the two original guidelines, in light of the findings of the evaluation and recommendations regarding the revision of these guidelines. 

The IREG Review Working Committee used the evaluation report and literature review as a basis for developing the revised guidelines. These two revised guidelines were released for public consultation from 8 May to 7 July 2017 and 48 submissions were received. Incorporating the feedback received during the public consultation, the IREG Review Working Committee then developed the final revised guidelines.

The IREG Review Working Committee provided the final guidelines to the Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC), which oversaw the review. These guidelines were recommended for release by AHEC, and then the Council of NHMRC at its meeting on 20–21 March 2018.

Historical context of research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

The history of the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and the conduct of post-colonisation research provides an important context for both Ethical conduct in research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities: Guidelines for researchers and stakeholders 2018 and Keeping research on track II 2018.

How people see the world is generally informed by their own cultural experiences, values, norms and learning. From the earliest periods of colonisation, views about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and social organisation (including their values and mores) were based on ill-informed perceptions and assumptions. These perceptions arose from inappropriate comparisons of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander world to the spiritual, social, political and economic perspectives of European colonisers. 

Colonists viewed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and societies through their own cultural lenses and judged these attributes by the degree to which they perceived them conforming to European customs and norms. Not surprisingly, the early colonisers knew nothing about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and their cultures. The substantial errors of judgement and the misconceptions that followed have had a significant impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples ever since. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are considered to be the most researched peoples in the world. Despite this, they have received very little perceivable benefit.

However, contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies continue to draw their strength and cultural continuity from the body of knowledge, values and wisdom that has emerged from contact with their traditions, historical events and wisdom and stories of the Elders.

In 2007, after more than 20 years of negotiations at the United Nations level, Indigenous peoples globally welcomed the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Australia endorsed in 2009. In order to address their human rights and cultural recognition, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have advocated for the articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be integrated throughout policies and programs. The right to self-determination means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have the freedom to live well and to live according to their values and beliefs. There are four ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples exercise self-determination:

  1. Having a choice in determining how their lives are governed and their development paths.
  2. Participating in decisions that affect their lives.
  3. Having control over their lives and future including economic, social and cultural development.
  4. Having the means by which every person might achieve their full potential.

When determining outcomes and making value judgments about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Australian society and its public institutions must acknowledge the extensive and rich history, heritage, culture and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Further, diversity of cultural attitudes must be respected to ensure that any policies, interactions and initiatives are informed, respectful and ethically sound.

Information about the guidelines

AIATSIS Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies produces the Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies 2012. Researchers should consult these guidelines as well.  A comparison of the AIATSIS guidelines, the NHMRC guidelines and the National Statement has been developed and is available at the link below:

Changes to the revised guidelines  The previous guidelines required revision to ensure the guidelines are up to date, contemporary and relevant. The previous guidelines applied to health research only, but the revised guidelines now apply to all research. The six values concept remains the same, with updates to two value names.

Using the National Statement and the review of Section 4 The National Statement provides general guidance about principles for any research that involves humans. These revised guidelines provide more specific guidance about research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities. All three guidelines should be followed, as well as any other guidelines that are relevant to the research project.

Section 4 of the National Statement is currently under review and this includes Chapter 4.7, which outlines considerations about research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The current Section 4 of the National Statement should be followed until the final revised version of Section 4 is released. This includes Chapter 4.7 (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples). The revised Section 4 is not expected to be released until 2019.

Other relevant guidance from other sections of the National Statement is referenced and hyperlinked in the revised guidelines. New references to any relevant information in the revised Section 4 will be included in the revised guidelines when the revised Section 4 is finalised and released.

A revised version of Section 4 will undergo a future public consultation. More information about NHMRC’s public consultations is available on the NHMRC public consultations portal.

Ethics review of research proposals  There are some HRECs with specialist expertise in reviewing ethics proposals for research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Some institutions require additional ethics review by one of these committees in addition to ethics review from their own institution as a compulsory measure, and some institutions require this additional ethics review on a more ad hoc or as-needed basis.

It is a matter for individual institutions to determine if they wish to have all ethics proposals for research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities reviewed by HRECs with specialist expertise in this area. However, all institutions must ensure that their HREC has access to the expertise necessary to enable it to address the ethical issues arising from the research it reviews. This may necessitate going outside the HREC membership.

You may wish to contact one of these HRECs to seek more information:

Consideration of public consultation submissions The revised guidelines underwent public consultation before they were finalised. All submissions were considered by the IREG Review Working Committee (an expert working committee) and this process informed the revision of the guidelines. The submissions were also considered in light of the recommendations made during the evaluation of the original guidelines.

Related topics Some matters that were raised in submissions as part of the public consultation process were outside the scope of the guideline review. These guidelines provide specific information about ethical conduct in research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities. You can find out more about related topics on NHMRC’s website:

Historical context information Information about the historical context of research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples now appears on NHMRC’s website. 

Case studies and templates The guidelines provide many examples of ways that the six core values can be demonstrated.  Specific case studies have not been provided in the guidelines because of the wide range of scenarios across the many different types of research that the guidelines cover. Some individuals and organisations that made a submission to the public consultation provided journal articles and other information about different aspects of research which may be useful as case studies– these submissions are available on the NHMRC public consultations portal.

The guidelines and this website also provide links to a wide range of other resources that may provide further information and assistance. Templates are not provided with the guidelines because of the variation in requirements for different types of research, and by different HRECs, institutions and jurisdictions. For information about specific forms and requirements, researchers should contact their institution.

Links to non-confidential public consultation submissions published on the NHMRC Public Consultation Portal

Where permission has been granted, submissions are available to view on the NHMRC Public Consultation website.

Some submissions include a variety of links or references to other resources that can be used as case studies.

Additional resources

There are also many useful resources available from the websites of a number of other organisations.

Research ethics guidelines and information

Human Research Ethics Committees (HRECs)

Intellectual property

Research agreements

Other information