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Indigenous Australians and Engineering Ethics Research Paper

A Reflective Evaluation Investigating the Historical Treatment of Indigenous Australians

Even though the term aboriginal is widely applied, its application can be problematic when referring to particular groups of indigenous people. Most indigenous people are in poor relationships with the church and the government as most of their settlement areas were established without their consultation or reference to their needs and interests (Department of Indigenous Affairs, 2013). In effect, both their cultural and social needs were neglected. Ideally, most of these people were forced to leave their homes and settle into one settlement.

An analysis of the history of these people shows that they are skeptical of any government involvement in their business, specifically because the legal policies and foundation as stipulated by the federal and state governments developed several policies and protections that excluded the aboriginal populations from the privileges that would be accorded to other Australian people (Department of Indigenous Affairs, 2013). Thus, the Aboriginals were unable to exercise the same rights like voting, holding public office, or being able to receive numerous Commonwealth benefits like the rest of the Australian population.

Further, state legislations developed in 1905 denied these people the ability to own land, get employment, relocate from one state to another, borrow money, or get married without consulting the protector (Department of Indigenous Affairs, 2013). In effect, this worsened the already prevalent inequality problem. It is all these policies and legal protections that discriminated against the aboriginal people that affected both their personal and private lives. In effect, most of these people have lived with a disdain for government officers and policies.

The Impact of the History on the Ethical Practice of Engineering

The history of the Australian Aboriginal people is one that is characterized by the forceful possession of indigenous lands, languages, and culture from institutions, leading to a history of mistrust and poor relationships. In effect, the practitioners of engineering should endeavor to avoid a repeat of the same mistakes (Department of Indigenous Affairs, 2013). Thus, the engineering body planning to carry out engineering activities in a given aboriginal community must consider practices like engagement and consultative meetings with the indigenous people for the right reasons. Thus, they should endeavor to achieve sustainable development through continuous engagement with the people and not through a fly in fly out an approach that suddenly discontinues communications.

It is also necessary for professionals to gather a thorough understanding of the indigenous communities by taking up a comprehensive view of their culture and community. This means that the engineers working on the ground should not in any way assume that the indigenous community and culture are just a single entity. An analysis of this history informs the ethical practice of engineering with these communities as ground engineers must undertake a consultative engagement process with the indigenous people (Goldfinch & Kennedy, 2013). Rio Tinto (2011) explains that action plans developed by institutions are usually the starting point for initiatives that require engagement with the local communities.

In effect, engineering ethics should be sensitive to cultural inclusivity, especially in communities that have experienced exclusion in the past. Institutions must think beyond themselves when seeking to involve the native communities in any project. Among some of the ways that this could be possible is responsible for stakeholder and community engagements (Engineers Australia 2010). Such is the idea that the Rio Tinto organization holds, with the belief that positive engagement with the Aboriginal Australians fosters better opportunities for the community and improves land access in matters of mining and exploration. It is the ethical duty of an engineer to exercise leadership and commitment to projects.

Nevertheless, it is crucial to understand that how leadership is exercised should match the values of the community (Rio Tinto (2011). Therefore, it is necessary to consider a community’s historical journey to determine positive engagement means. A good example of a company that does so is Rio Tinto, which has struggled since 1990 to establish new ways of dealing and engaging with indigenous Australians. Among the considerations that the organization applies is the application of the land rights and native title legislation, with a key driver of their operations being socioeconomic sustainability practices (Rio Tinto, 2011). In effect, the organization negotiates participation agreements with the communities as a means to empower them.

Sustainability is another pertinent ethical concern. A crucial way to supporting sustainable initiatives is to foster community engagement (Engineers Australia, 2010). The engineering professionals must consider the continuity of developmental projects even after the initial projects and funding for the initial projects have been completed. This way, the community can decipher institutional commitment to the kinship relationship that has already been established. In effect, the use of fly in fly out approaches to initiatives should be eliminated as they are likely to alienate individuals, leading to a reduced commitment to building trust (Fitzgerald, 2015).

According to the guidelines for a professional code of ethics, engineers must act in a way that promotes community sustainability. Ideally, there are only 55% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders that have since participated in the labor force as compared to the other Australian communities (Fitzgerald, 2015). This implies that these communities are underrepresented in the technical fields, meaning that they are not able to engage in issues of infrastructure and land development. However, engineers must realize that the historical nature of these people as an excluded minority impacts their engagement capabilities (Fitzgerald, 2015).

Nonetheless, the profession has an ethical mandate for these communities. Realizing that the Aboriginals have limited access to education and suffer limited technical exercise, among other factors that could impact on their level of engagement should help engineers apply their knowledge and skills to create an advantage for these communities. In so doing, engineers can separate their sectional and personal interests for the good of the communities (Engineers Australia, 2010).

How Would this Influence me in Communicating with Aboriginal Communities and Representatives as an Engineer?

Application of the historical knowledge of the indigenous people is a critical factor in ensuring better communication and engagement with these communities. It is imperative to understand that the Aboriginals have long been segregated from key policies and legislative protections that they have become skeptical when dealing with institutions of government representatives. In effect, it is crucial that an engineer directly dealing with them can exercise the following: First, it is imperative to understand the aboriginal Australians’ practice are a different culture from most of the Australian people.

An effective understanding of the people’s culture and their social system will help the communicator come to terms with the cultural practices of the people, despite having varied views about issues (Goldfinch & Kennedy, 2013). Secondly, the historical literature available about the Aboriginal people shows that they were used to being secluded with minimal participation rights on matters affecting the community legislations. In effect, they have become skeptical lot. Thus, it is important that any communication with the people develops along lines of negotiation, consultation, and informed consent (Jones & Barnett, 2006).

Ideally, indigenous populations have become very protective of their land, community, and heritage. In effect, any communication with them should be based on including their active role in decision making, especially in matters that affect their environment. Thus, any discussion dealing with them should be done equitably, respectfully, and be flexible.

Secondly, the Aboriginal people demand recognition, respect, and involvement in any changes to their environment. Respect for them mainly implies an ability to demonstrate consideration for their values and opinions (Jones & Barnett, 2006). A fundamental problem that the Aboriginal people have faced is that they have been, many times, considered as a single identity. Such generalizations while communicating with the people typically show little recognition and appreciation for their distinct values and practices. Thus, I would apply this understanding as a field engineer through the understanding that Aboriginal people have different communication cues and values for their environment. Such differences must be realized and accommodated.

Further, the Aboriginal people feel short-changed and deceived owing to the various agreements that they have previously been subjected to. Thus, it is necessary that any communication that I will have with these people will explain in detail the potential benefits for them and the likely negative impacts. For them, any discussion must acknowledge their participation, as well as leads to outcomes that are readily acceptable to them (Jones & Barnett, 2006).


Department of Indigenous Affairs (2013). Consulting Citizens: Engaging with western Aboriginal Australians. Web.

Engineers Australia. (2010). Our code of ethics. Web.

Fitzgerald, J. (2015). . Diversified Communications Australia. Web.

Goldfinch, T., & Kennedy, J. (2013). Understanding Indigenous consultation and engagement in engineering education. Australasian Association for Engineering Education Annual Conference: Australia.

Jones, A., & Barnett, B. (2006). . Web.

Rio Tinto (2011). Reconciliation action plan. Web.

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