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Newcastle University demands proof from students claiming to be Aboriginal   

Newcastle University demands proof from students claiming to be Aboriginal


A regional Australian university will demand more proof that students are Aboriginal if they want to claim places meant for Indigenous candidates.

Newcastle University in the New South Wales Hunter Valley has introduced new measures to ensure Indigenous resources are going to those who need them.

The university already requires students to provide documentary proof of their Indigenous ancestry if they apply to access particular programs and services. 

They must now also produce written evidence they are accepted by the community to which they claim to belong and have their identity assessed by a panel of experts.

A regional Australian university will demand more proof that students are Aboriginal if they want to claim places meant for Indigenous candidates. Stock image of Aboriginal students celebrating in graduation gowns

A regional Australian university will demand more proof that students are Aboriginal if they want to claim places meant for Indigenous candidates. Stock image of Aboriginal students celebrating in graduation gowns

Newcastle University in the New South Wales Hunter Valley has introduced new measures to ensure Indigenous resources are going to those who need them. The university's city campus is pictured

Newcastle University in the New South Wales Hunter Valley has introduced new measures to ensure Indigenous resources are going to those who need them. The university’s city campus is pictured

Newcastle University has one of the nation's most stringent vetting processes to reduce the number of so-called 'box-tickers' who falsely claim to be Indigenous. The Census asks Australians to self-identify as Indigenous

Newcastle University has one of the nation’s most stringent vetting processes to reduce the number of so-called ‘box-tickers’ who falsely claim to be Indigenous. The Census asks Australians to self-identify as Indigenous

Newcastle University has one of the nation’s most stringent vetting processes to reduce the number of so-called ‘box-tickers’ who falsely claim to be Indigenous. 

It also has one of the the highest Indigenous enrolments of any Australian tertiary institution, with more than 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.  

Associate Professor Kathleen Butler, head of the university’s Wollotuka Institute, said further procedures were introduced this year to meet demands from the Indigenous community. 

‘There’s an expectation that we’re going to be the guardians of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander money and make sure that it’s going to genuine students that are in need,’ Associate Professor Butler said. 

‘I think that there’s a broader community expectation as well that people who are receiving the funding are genuine.’ 

The move comes as the number of Australians who identify as Aboriginal continues to soar and amid concerns over what has been labelled Indigenous identity fraud.

Associate Professor Kathleen Butler, head of Newcastle University's Wollotuka Institute, said further procedures were introduced this year to meet demands of the Indigenous community

Associate Professor Kathleen Butler, head of Newcastle University’s Wollotuka Institute, said further procedures were introduced this year to meet demands of the Indigenous community

More Australians self-identify as Indigenous in each successive Census than can be accounted for by birth rates, in a phenomenon also known as ‘race-shifting’, which distorts official records.  

Daily Mail Australia has reported some ‘race-shifters’ are taking positions meant for Indigenous Australians and that the practice is particularly prevalent in academia and the public service. 

According to federal government guidelines, a person is considered Indigenous if he or she is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, identifies as such, and is accepted by their community.

Associate Professor Butler said Newcastle University was putting a greater focus on that third ‘community’ criteria. 

‘It’s really about not just biologically do you have an Aboriginal heritage but it’s about do you live it,’ she said. 

‘The core value has always been it’s not enough to just be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, you also have to have that lived experience in community and the acceptance by your community.

According to federal government guidelines, a person is considered Indigenous if he or she is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, identifies as such, and is accepted by their community. Stock image

According to federal government guidelines, a person is considered Indigenous if he or she is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, identifies as such, and is accepted by their community. Stock image

‘That’s always at the heart of the government’s three-point definition but it’s not how it has always been implemented in practice, nationally.’

A spokesman for the Department of Education, Skills and Employment told Daily Mail Australia: ‘Verifying student and staff identities are matters for individual universities.’ 

Associate Professor Butler said Newcastle University’s procedures for verifying identity had been refined over the years.  

‘I think for some universities they accept a statutory declaration,’ she said. ‘We have never accepted a statutory declaration. 

‘At every turn we’ve asked for something external to the individual but I don’t think it would be fair to say that we’ve ever centralised it.’

Newcastle University’s identity requirements apply to any applicant seeking access to study programs, student services or other opportunities specifically available to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The university's identity requirements apply to students seeking access to study programs, services or other opportunities specifically available to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. The 'Establishing Aboriginality and/or Torres Strait Islander Status Form' is pictured

The university’s identity requirements apply to students seeking access to study programs, services or other opportunities specifically available to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. The ‘Establishing Aboriginality and/or Torres Strait Islander Status Form’ is pictured

To prove they are of Indigenous descent an applicant can provide original or certified copies of birth records and/or evidence of an immediate family member's confirmed Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status

To prove they are of Indigenous descent an applicant can provide original or certified copies of birth records and/or evidence of an immediate family member’s confirmed Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status

They also apply to ‘identified positions’ for staff roles set aside for applicants who are Indigenous. 

All applicants have to complete an ‘Establishing Aboriginality and/or Torres Strait Islander Status Form’. 

To prove they are of Indigenous descent an applicant can provide original or certified copies of birth records and/or evidence of an immediate family member’s confirmed Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status. 

Immediate family members are parents, siblings or grandparents. Birth records need to show the relationship between an applicant and a relative recognised as Indigenous.

Alternatively, an applicant can produce a letter confirming their Indigenous status signed by an executive leader of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander organisation,  such as a local land council.

The applicant must then prove they are accepted by the community in which they live or have lived, with a letter signed by a prominent member of an incorporated Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander organisation.

An applicant must prove they are accepted by the community in which they live or have lived, with a letter signed by a prominent member of an incorporated Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander organisation

An applicant must prove they are accepted by the community in which they live or have lived, with a letter signed by a prominent member of an incorporated Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander organisation

The documentary evidence will be assessed by a panel convened by the Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Indigenous Strategy and Leadership, who will make the final decision

The documentary evidence will be assessed by a panel convened by the Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Indigenous Strategy and Leadership, who will make the final decision

‘Not just anyone can write it,’ Associate Professor Butler said. ‘To have that institutional letterhead you have to be recognised with some standing in the community.’ 

Where any doubt remains, the onus will be on the applicant to prove their Indigenous status. 

‘Of course it’s quite bureaucratic and some people say, “I shouldn’t have to provide that level of proof” and we understand people’s feelings,’ Associate Professor Butler said. 

How Newcastle University decides if students and staff are Indigenous

Associate Professor Butler said Newcastle University drew Indigenous students from the Hunter region, Central Coast and Mid North Coast, as well as towns including Dubbo and Moree in the state's west and north. Stock image of two Aboriginal students

Associate Professor Butler said Newcastle University drew Indigenous students from the Hunter region, Central Coast and Mid North Coast, as well as towns including Dubbo and Moree in the state’s west and north. Stock image of two Aboriginal students

Newcastle University’s Indigenous identity requirements apply to applicants seeking access to study programs, student services or other opportunities specifically available to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians.

They also apply to staff in ‘identified positions’ set aside only for Indigenous applicants. 

All applicants have to complete an ‘Establishing Aboriginality and/or Torres Strait Islander Status Form’. 

The university has adopted the Commonwealth definition of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person used by governments for administrative purposes. 

That means the person is of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent, identifies as such, and is accepted by the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in which he or she lives or has lived. 

All three criteria must be met. The way a person looks or how they live are never among the requirements. 

To prove they are of Indigenous descent an applicant can provide original or certified copies of birth records and/or evidence of an immediate family member’s confirmed Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status. 

Immediate family members include parents, siblings or grandparents. 

Alternatively, an applicant can produce a letter confirming their Indigenous status signed by an executive leader of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander organisation, such as a local land council.

The applicant must also prove they are accepted by the community in which they live or have lived with a letter signed by a prominent member of an incorporated Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Any such letter cannot be signed by an immediate family member of the applicant or a staff member of the university. 

Where any doubt remains, the onus will be on the applicant to prove their Indigenous status. 

The university would also reserve the right to revoke Aboriginal and/or Torres State Islander status if it confirmed information it was provided was false.

‘But it’s the community that’s telling us this is what they want in place. So it’s not something that’s being imposed from outside. It’s something that’s coming from our community.’

The documentary evidence will be assessed by a panel convened by the Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Indigenous Strategy and Leadership, who will make the final decision.

The panel will include a member of the Wollotuka Institute, a representative from the university’s Board of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education and Research and its Nguraki council of Elders. 

Associate Professor Butler said in the past applications were considered by individual university departments, rather than a specialist panel.

‘Now it’s a lot more formalised,’ she said. ‘It’s very process-driven, it’s going to be centrally administered. It either does meet the criteria or it doesn’t. Now there’s no grey areas.’ 

Associate Professor Butler said Newcastle University drew Indigenous students from the Hunter region, Central Coast and Mid North Coast, as well as towns including Dubbo and Moree in the state’s west and north.

Associate Professor Butler said Newcastle University drew Indigenous students from the Hunter region, Central Coast and Mid North Coast, as well as towns including Dubbo and Moree in the state's west and north. The university is pictured

 Associate Professor Butler said Newcastle University drew Indigenous students from the Hunter region, Central Coast and Mid North Coast, as well as towns including Dubbo and Moree in the state’s west and north. The university is pictured

‘We probably have comparatively one of the more stringent measures for confirmation and yet we still have the highest number of identifying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the nation,’ she said.

Associate Professor Butler expected the new procedures to be welcomed by most of the students and staff at the university. 

‘When you’ve got any kind of identity politics there can be tensions,’ Associate Professor Butler said. 

‘But I think one of the things we hold firm to is if you claim Aboriginality and you’re not, under the law that’s fraud. 

‘Particularly for staff, there’s been really good communication that under our code of conduct we don’t as a university accept fraudulent behaviour.

‘I think possibly, and this is pure speculation, most people in the sector would know Newcastle’s fairly strong on this.

‘So it wouldn’t be a particularly smart move to try to fraudulently claim Aboriginality at our university. There’d be places where it would be a lot easier.’

Aboriginal Australians by numbers

The number of Australians who say they are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander has been increasing for decades at a rate far faster than the broader population. 

The last Census, conducted in 2016, estimated there were 798,400 Indigenous Australians – Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or both – making up 3.3 per cent of the citizenry.

That number was an increase of 19 per cent – or 128,500 people – on the estimate of 669,900 from the previous 2011 Census.

The vast majority of the increase was attributed to births – 72.7 per cent – but 21.4 per cent were deemed unexplainable. 

During the same period the whole Australian population grew by just 8.4 per cent to 24,210,800.

Since the introduction of a Standard Indigenous Question in 1996 – ‘Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?’ – the Census count of Indigenous Australians has increased by 83.9 per cent. 

Large increases in the counts of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people have been observed since 1971. The increase between the 1991 and 1996 Censuses was 33 per cent.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics cites several factors in this increase, including higher fertility rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

But it also recognises some respondents change whether they identify as Indigenous between Censuses.

Censuses record Australians in age brackets and there are not enough ‘new’ Indigenous individuals in the 0-4 years range each five years to account for the rise. 

Between 2011 and 2016 almost every five-year age cohort under 70 increased in size. The increases are also not observed geographically across the board. 

‘The growth in counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons between 2011 and 2016 is not consistent across the country, with growth primarily occurring in major cities and on the eastern coast of Australia,’ the ABS states. 

The largest populations of Indigenous Australians lived in NSW (265,700) and Queensland (221,400). The smallest lived in the ACT (7,500 people).

Indigenous Australians comprised 30 per cent of the population of the Northern Territory, the highest proportion of any state or territory.

In Tasmania, 26,152 identified as Aboriginal, 1,322 as Torres Strait Islander and 1,063 as both for a total Indigenous population of 28,537.

Annual government expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was estimated at $33.4billion in 2015-16.

The Productivity Commission’s 2017 Indigenous Expenditure Report stated mainstream services accounted for about $27.4billion or 82 per cent of that total, with the remaining $6billion on Indigenous-specific services.

Mainstream services included health, welfare and education available to all Australians.

The direct expenditure per Indigenous person was $44,886, almost twice the rate for non-Indigenous Australians ($22,356).

The higher rate was attributed to a greater intensity of service use and the higher cost of providing services due to factors including remote locations.

In the same period, Australian governments, federal and state, spent $522.7billion on non-Indigenous people.

 



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