Journal article

Journal of Indigenous Policy: tracking Indigenous policy 2011-2014

10 Feb 2015

This special edition presents selections of Prof Altman’s writing's on a range of issues: from further evaluation of the Northern Territory intervention, the failure of homelands policy, challenges in policy approaches to Closing the Gap and analysis of the ‘Stronger Futures’ legislation.


In early 2011, Chris Graham, Walkley Award winning journalist, founding editor and co-owner of the National Indigenous Times and renowned campaign journalist rang me. Chris, for whom I had provided opinion editorials when he ran the National Indigenous Times, is an infectious enthusiast. He described to me a project that he was about to embark on for his employer the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council along the lines of the quotes above from then Chairwoman Bev Manton. He asked: would I consider being a regular columnist, on a contractual basis and paid, for a monthly magazine to be called Tracker?

I responded positively. It is a rare honour for a white academic to be invited by a black organisation to be their ‘Indigenous policy expert’ as I was described; and I strongly believed that Aboriginal organisations should seek to inform and empower their constituents with independent political viewpoints. Chris made it clear that I would be at liberty to choose the subject matter of my column, to give the column a name, and that I would be free of editorial veto of any type. While subsequently I always consulted commissioning editor Amy McQuire about the subject of my column, she was my ‘boss’, there was always agreement; and over a three-year period not a word of my numerous contributions was altered, style consistency aside; and not a word was cut despite my tendency to academic prolixity and regular transgression of the requested 1,000 word contribution.

I mulled over a name for my column with my partner and colleague Melinda Hinkson. discussing the research-based copy that I proposed to deliver, and she came up with Evidently, a suggestion that I gratefully accepted. This is an adverb that has two meanings: one is obviously or clearly, the other is according to the evidence available.

Tracker was published on 32 occasions between April 2011 and June 2014, not quite on a monthly basis but close enough. Each of my Evidently columns included the word ‘evidently’ at least once, but the word was usually deployed with the deep scepticism of a critical social scientist to indicate that policy makers were ignoring, rather than embracing, evidence.4 A great deal of policy making in the last decade, especially since the demise of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) has been based on ideology, anecdote and populism rather than evidenced-based research or even cogent argument. The aim of my column was to challenge the current dominant approach based on the imposition of neoliberal governmentality, that I believe has serious limitations, with research that I was undertaking; or else to present some of my fresh research to a broad audience—Tracker’s print run was 35,000 and it also maintained an up-to-date web presence.

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