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Ethical research

The AIATSIS Act (1989) mandates AIATSIS to provide leadership in the field of ethics and protocols for research related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and collections.

The Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies (GERAIS) ensures that research with and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples follows a process of meaningful engagement and reciprocity between the researcher and the individuals and/or communities involved in the research.

In October 2020 AIATSIS will publish the Code of Ethics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research. This document will supersede and replace the Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies (GERAIS). All references to GERAIS in Australian research codes and guidance should be taken to refer to this Code.

The release of the AIATSIS Code will see a 12-month implementation period. Other supporting resources and templates will be developed and published during the implementation period and beyond.

  • History

    For over twenty years AIATSIS has provided national and international guidance in the ethical practice of research concerning Indigenous peoples. We are committed to improving the standards of engagement and the benefits that research can offer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    The former Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies (GERAIS) established itself as representing the highest standards for ethical research, to ensure that research with and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples follows a process of meaningful engagement and reciprocity between the researcher and the individuals and/or communities involved.

    The guidelines were regularly revised to reflect developments in critical areas that had emerged since previous editions. These included changes to intellectual property laws, rights in traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, and the establishment of agreements and protocols between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and researchers, as well as emerging developments in digitisation, data and information management, and the very significant impacts this has on research and other aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies.

    In 2018, AIATSIS undertook a substantial review of the guidelines. This review saw a shift from guidelines to a Code.

  • Ethics committee membership

    We are not currently recruiting members to the AIATSIS Research Ethics Committee. Positions may become available throughout the year and will be advertised on the AIATSIS website.

    Members must demonstrate a commitment to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and be able to communicate sensitively and effectively. This commitment will be shown by their capacity to:

    • Understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures;
    • Identify issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today; and
    • Communicate respectfully.

    Members of the Committee are appointed for three years in line with the categories established by the National Health and Medical Research Council. Applicants must apply under one of the following categories:

    • Researcher – Persons with knowledge of, and current experience in, research with or about Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.
    • Practitioner– Knowledge of, and current experience in, the professional care, counselling or treatment of people.
    • Pastoral Care – an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Elder, current Minister of Religion or a person who performs a similar role in the community.
    • Lay person – Persons with no affiliation to AIATSIS and who do not engage in medical, scientific, legal or academic work.
    • Lawyer – Persons who are legally trained or lawyers.
    • Chairperson - A person with suitable experience, whose other responsibilities will not impair the Committee’s capacity to carry out its obligations under the National Statement.

    Membership of the Committee involves a minimum of eight meetings per year, held at AIATSIS or via teleconference, and an average preparation time of three to four hours per meeting. Meetings are usually for one day. The Committee also hosts workshops for researchers seeking to familiarise themselves with the AIATSIS Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies (GERAIS).

    A modest sitting fee is payable for attendance of the meetings and workshops as well as recognition for preparation time and travel costs for attending any face to face meetings. Members must have a registered ABN.

    If you would like to be considered for the next round of recruitment, please send us your CV and provide a one-page statement explaining why you would be the best person for this position. Please include the AIATSIS EOI cover sheet in your application.

  • Ethics training

    AIATSIS provides training for researchers, PhD students, HRECs, Government organisations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and anyone else involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research.

    The ethics training is designed to teach, inform and mentor participants to ensure the best ethical standards are met in research.

    Ethics training is facilitated both face to face and virtually by qualified research facilitators including members of the AIATSIS Research Ethics Committee. Through the specialised training, participants will gain:

    • An awareness of the ethical framework for research in Australia
    • An understanding of the ethical principles underpinning the AIATSIS Code of Ethics
    • An understanding of key issues in designing and undertaking ethical engagement practices
    • Knowledge on how to apply the principles in practice
    • An overview of the process and expectations for ethical clearance

    The training can be customised to meet the needs of the research focus.  

    It is encouraged that participants bring prospective ethical dilemmas in their work or involvement with research to be discussed during the training.

    For more information, please contact us.

    Training type Group size
    AIATSIS Ethics workshop Up to 30 people
    AIATSIS Ethics coaching session 1-6 people
  • Resources and templates

    We are continually developing supplementary resources to the AIATSIS Code of Ethics such as templates and topic-specific guides to assist in the practical application of the ethical principles. Further resources and templates will be developed during the implementation of the AIATSIS Code of Ethics.

  • Contact

    Secretariat
    AIATSIS Research Ethics Committee
    GPO Box 553
    Canberra ACT 2601