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Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Empowered Communities

The Australian Government is working in a new way with First Nations leaders and communities, one that supports First Nations ownership, enables true partnerships with Government and recognises the diversity of cultures and circumstances of First Nations Australians. This aligns with the Government’s commitment to ensure First Nations communities are involved in local and regional decision making under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, particularly Priority Reforms One, Two and Three, Formal Partnerships and Shared Decision Making, Building the Community Controlled Sector and Transforming Government Organisations.

One example is the First Nations-designed and led Empowered Communities initiative.

Empowered Communities involves First Nations communities and governments working together to set priorities, improve services and apply funding effectively at a regional level. It aims to increase First Nations ownership and give First Nations people greater influence over decisions that affect them.

Empowered Communities is about governments backing First Nations leaders who want to introduce positive changes in their communities and regions by putting First Nations culture and participation central to government decision-making.

Empowered Communities is active in 10 urban, rural and remote regions across Australia:

  • Cape York, QLD
  • Central Coast, NSW
  • Inner Sydney, NSW
  • Goulburn- Murray, NSW and VIC
  • East Kimberley, WA
  • West Kimberley, WA
  • Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, WA, NT and SA
  • Ngarrindjeri Ruwe, SA
  • North-East Arnhem Land, NT
  • Far West Coast, SA

The Australian Government provided $5 million to support the Empowered Communities leaders to complete a detailed design of the model outlined in the Empowered Communities design report.

The Australian Government responded to the design report in December 2015. It strongly supported local First Nations led action to address priorities and aspirations identified by communities, in partnership with First Nations people.

The regional implementation of Empowered Communities is underway with support from the Australian Government and Jawun Indigenous Corporate Partnerships. A number of state and territory governments are also involved.

Implementation - Progress to Date

The Australian Government has provided $47 million from 2016 through 30 June 2024 to fund ‘backbone organisations’ in the 10 Empowered Communities regions. This supports critical capability for First Nations leaders as they work with their communities and partner organisations to identify and progress local priorities.

As part of its commitment to greater transparency, the Government is providing Empowered Communities regional data and funding information to help inform joint planning and identifying community priorities.

In the early stages of implementation, Empowered Communities leaders and their communities focused on establishing governance and engagement structures, identifying first priorities and long term regional development agendas that address social, economic and cultural development.

Since then, Empowered Communities regions have moved to action on initial priorities, including through joint decision making with Government on Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding and co-designing initiatives to address community priorities. The National Indigenous Australians Agency Regional Offices are supporting this effort on the ground.

More information is available on the Empowered Communities website or by contacting NIAA.


Empowered Communities leaders have also made valuable contributions to the Final Report of the Indigenous Voice Co-design Process published in 2021. Building upon the Empowered Communities experience, the Empowered Communities submission supported an Indigenous Voice to Parliament and the implementation of structural reforms to support First Nations voices as an opportunity for the Australian Government to adopt a genuine partnership with First Nations people.


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