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The Miller report supports self-determination in employment policies

An influential report on government programs recommended changes to improve employment and education outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

... the delivery of social services and income support has been improved, whilst the economic earning power of Aboriginal people has not …

Miller report, 1985, p 39
About the artefact

In 1985, the Committee of Review of Aboriginal Employment and Training Programs published a report on government policy and programs. These excerpts from the report show some of the committee's recommendations.

Significantly, the committee was led by Aboriginal people, including Mick Miller, MaryAnn Bin-Sallik and Jim Morrison. This publication is commonly called the ‘Miller report’ after its lead author.

The Miller report is thought of as a landmark document that influenced the development of programs throughout the 1990s.

Recommendation of self-determination

In their recommendations, the committee focused on helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people become economically independent. The authors called their report ‘a blueprint for government support for Aboriginal people's ability to provide for their own livelihood’.

The policy approach the Miller report advocated for is known as ‘self-determination’. This report tried to show how the government could support the core idea of self-determination in practice.

The authors pointed out the distinct needs of Torres Strait Islander people. The report argued that they deserved further support to maintain economic independence.

Evaluating existing programs

To develop the report, the committee used extensive research to evaluate programs such as the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) and ABSTUDY.

CDEP funded communities to set up their own projects where people could work. It was an alternative to individual Unemployment Benefit payments.

ABSTUDY was a payment for people completing higher education.

The report assessed whether programs like CDEP and ABSTUDY met Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s needs and suggested changes.

Reliance on payments and lack of employment opportunities

The committee found that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had ‘little choice’ but to rely on government payments. It said a ‘staggering’ 71% of total Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander income came from government.

Research found it was difficult for people to get jobs. There weren’t many jobs in remote areas and employers discriminated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The researchers argued that ineffective government programs meant that many people had become dependent on payments.

Recommendations to expand CDEP, ABSTUDY and government employment

The report said the government should continue and expand CDEP. It said the government should involve communities in making changes to the program. The report said remote communities supported the program because it gave them local control and helped them to be self-sufficient. The writers framed investing in CDEP as a way to help reduce payments, saving the government money on social security costs.

The report also recommended increasing financial support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education. ABSTUDY was less than Unemployment Benefit, so it sometimes made study a difficult financial decision.

The committee found that the government was an important employer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The report recommended on-the-job training for more jobs, including Aboriginal Liaison Officer roles.

Policy changes following the report

The report’s national scope and basis in research made it a useful document for government decision-making about education and employment.

The government used the recommendations to create the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy in 1987. This policy included expanding CDEP into new areas and continuing the new vocational education scheme called the Training for Aboriginals Program.

Source details

The report committee included prominent people in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs:

  • Mr Michael (Mick) Miller was a Waanyi, KuKuYalanji and Bwgcolman teacher and activist. At the time, he was also Deputy Chair of the Aboriginal Development Commission and Chair of the North Queensland Land Council.
  • Professor MaryAnn Bin-Sallik AO is a Djaru Elder and educator. When the report was written, she was also coordinator of the Aboriginal Task Force at the South Australian Institute of Technology. 
  • Mr Jim Morrison is a senior Noongar man, activist and community leader. He was a National Aboriginal Conference nominee when the report was written.
  • Dr HC ‘Nugget’ Coombs was an economist and long-term public servant.
  • Frederick Hall was a former IBM executive.  

The full Report of the Committee of Review is available on the VOCED website.


Permissions to reproduce excerpts from the Miller report were granted by Professor MaryAnn Bin-Sallik and Mr Jim Morrison.

Permissions were also granted by Mr Mick Miller’s children, Ms Lydia Miller, Ms Marilyn Miller and Mr Michael Miller.


Committee of Review of Aboriginal Employment and Training Programs (1985) Aboriginal employment and training programs: report of the Committee of Review, Committee of Review of Aboriginal Employment and Training Programs, Australian Government.