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Can research ethics codes be a conduit for justice? An examination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander guidelines in Australia

Deborah Zion, Richard Matthews

2022 Australia

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia, have historically experienced research as another means of colonialization and oppression. Although there are existing frameworks, guidelines and policies in place that respond to this history, the risk of exploitation and oppression arising from research still raises challenging ethical questions. Since the 1990s the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia has developed specific sets of guidelines that govern research with these populations in an attempt to redress injustices of the past. The current guidelines: Ethical Conduct in Research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and Communities: Guidelines for Researchers and Stakeholders, 2018, emphasis six core values which are bound together by “spirit and integrity.” The values are reflected through respect for cultural inheritance, and genuine negotiation of partnerships between researchers, other stakeholders, and communities. We examine whether these guidelines can lead to research and research practices that redress some of the ongoing traumas of colonialization and racism. We draw upon Margaret Urban Walker’s formulation of restorative justice, based upon her “pragmatics of repair” which relies upon “voice, validation and vindication” and at its core, the restoration of relationships.

Aboriginal guidelines, research ethics, Australia, colonialization, justice