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Ethical Review: AHREC

Aboriginal Health Research Ethics Committee


The Aboriginal Health Research Ethics Committee (AHREC) promotes and supports quality research that will benefit Aboriginal people.

The Committee was established in 1986 following concerns by the then Aboriginal Health Organisation of South Australia about the increasing volume of research being conducted in Aboriginal communities in South Australia.

AHREC’s objectives are to monitor and coordinate medical and health research in Aboriginal communities in South Australia, to offer advice to communities on the ethics, methodology and potential benefits of research and to review the research needs of Aboriginal communities in order to determine priorities for research.

AHREC is guided by the principles set out in the National Health and Medical Research Council's (NHMRC) ‘National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research’ (2007) as a registered HREC. Proposals to conduct health-related research involving Aboriginal people or communities in South Australia need to be submitted to AHREC in line with AHREC’s Scope of Review, even if approval has been, or will be, obtained from the researcher’s institution or SA Health.

AHREC is a specialist committee in Aboriginal health research and its scope does not extend to studies without a direct focus on health or commissioned program evaluations. AHREC distinguishes evaluations conducted for research purposes and evaluations conducted for commissioned reporting purposes. If an evaluation will be conducted for research purposes, please be advised that it will be expected to meet AHREC’s standard of review below. In other words, what is in the scope of evaluation to achieve, or not be able to achieve, the requisite extent of consultation, data saturation and scientific validity should drive the choice to conduct a study as a program evaluation or as an evaluation for research purposes.

All human research must comply with the:

AHREC also takes into account the following companion documents and guidelines during an ethical review:

The researchers are required to review the following information:

+-AHREC Application Process

Scope of Review

If you are unsure whether you are required to submit an application to AHREC or not, please review AHREC’s application form first, and submit a synopsis including the scope, methods, target group, risks, form of data accessed/collected, intended analysis (eg total sample level vs. by Aboriginality) and any other information you may deem necessary for a preliminary assessment to Manager, Research and Ethics Gokhan.Ayturk@ahcsa.org.au . Any calls regarding whether you need to submit an application or not will be referred back to this instruction. AHREC’s scope of review is as follows:

  • AHREC reviews studies that are directly related to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people. Health and well-being are defined as per the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation’s definition, where it is stated that:
    Aboriginal health means not just the physical wellbeing of an individual but refers to the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole Community in which each individual is able to achieve their full potential as a human being, thereby bringing about the total wellbeing of their Community. It is a whole of life view and includes the cyclical concept of life-death-life.
  • The researchers are required to seek AHREC’s approval based on the following:
    • the primary research goals and questions of study are directly related to health research and wellbeing; and
    • the experience of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people (hereafter referred to as Aboriginal) is an explicit focus of all or part of the research; or
    • data collection is explicitly directed at Aboriginal people; or
    • it is proposed to conduct sub-group analyses and separately analyse Aboriginal people in the results; or
    • the information, potential over-representation in the dataset or geographic location has an impact on one or more Aboriginal communities;
    • Governmental Aboriginal health funds are a source of funding eg if it is a review of governmental services that may impact on the Aboriginal Community or organisations and there is an intention to disseminate key findings or recommendations in a public report.
  • The researchers may not be required to also acquire AHREC’s approval (Researcher is required to justify the reasoning in relation to the below)
    • if the study is not directly related to health and wellbeing;
    • if it is a mainstream study with coincidental recruitment of Aboriginal people in a low-risk scope AND its proposed references to Aboriginal people are only in terms of demographics at the total sample level with no sub-group analysis; or
    • if the proposed study does not hold research characteristics (eg no hypotheses) and is an evaluation or audit of projects for reporting purposes or continuous quality improvement activities.
    • if it is a scoping review of publicly available information/services or systematic literature review.

If a researcher is seeking advice regarding whether they need to submit or not, they need to present their arguments and justify why the study may not require AHREC’s review. The final decision regarding whether a study/project also requires AHREC’s approval is determined on a case-by-case basis depending on all of the study parameters requested above.

Standard of Review

AHREC is guided by the AHCSA Constitution and operates in accordance with the NHMRC National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research and other relevant federal and state legislation and regulations. The Committee reviews studies also with respect to Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research, the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research 2007 and the South Australian Aboriginal Health Research Accord. AHREC’s deliberations take into account AHCSA’s priorities and commitment to develop and assess culturally appropriate methods of research for the benefit of the South Australian Aboriginal Community.

All research submitted to AHREC must place the needs, priorities and wellbeing of the South Australian Aboriginal Community before the needs of the study and present a partnership approach at all phases with a feasible knowledge translation strategy involving relevant Aboriginal organisations.

All research submitted to AHREC must meet with good research practice and present a rigorous methodology in terms of quantitative representativeness and qualitative data saturation. The methodology should be designed to adequately answer the study’s research questions and achieve meaningful research outcomes for the South Australian Aboriginal Community.

If an application does not meet the requisite research and ethical standards (ie inadequate sample size, community consultation, governance structure, lack of understanding of research methods, inability to articulate or respond to the Committee’s concerns), it is at AHREC’s discretion to not further review the study and advise its re-submission at least 3 months after the initial review or progression without the Aboriginal component.

In view of the above, in order to ensure that student applicants are properly and adequately supervised, and the students’ well-being is protected, the Committee requires supervisors of all students wishing to conduct research in the Aboriginal health sector to thoroughly assess the feasibility of achieving the scope with respect to the student’s timeframes, capabilities and academic level. All applicants, regardless of their academic or professional level, must be aware of the ethical and research standards they need to meet.

If the Committee assesses that a submission by a student or any researcher is sub-standard and under- or inadequately-supervised (eg there is significant room for improvement in all aspects of the application), it may refer the student or the researcher to their research office and/or other relevant parties for support and review of guidelines ahead of any further correspondence with the Committee. AHREC will not be a substitute for researchers’ and supervisors’ accountability with regard to the articulation and interpretation of the ethical guidelines and academic standards, and, will notify the relevant parties where required eg other HRECs, Head of School, Vice-Chancellor, Research Integrity Office, funder etc.

AHREC requires supervisors of students to directly engage with the Committee in place of, and for, students with due diligence regarding AHREC’s scope and standard of review as well as the procedures/instructions below. Students are advised to ensure supervisors’ inclusion of any, and all, engagement with AHREC.

Due to prior experience and in order to ensure that potential applicants will not take up AHREC’s or other Aboriginal stakeholders’ or families’ time excessively, the Committee strongly urges supervisors and study teams to thoroughly and objectively assess their timeframes, capabilities and academic level ahead of any correspondence with the Committee. 

Research conducted in the Aboriginal health sector requires a high level of scientific rigour, cultural understanding and stakeholder engagement. In line with the relevant guidelines and standards, the studies must aim to produce benefit for the Aboriginal communities in SA.

Application Procedure

Paper-based copies are no longer required. All researchers are required to submit electronic versions of ALL NEW PROPOSALS AND MODIFICATIONS AND REPORTS as a single merged pdf file. Please bear in mind that your application is part of a much larger set of meeting papers, and it is not possible for reviewers to open and close 10-20 different electronic files per agenda item.

In short, what you need to submit for ethical review is a single merged and editable PDF document via email. The study protocol should not be part of the merged PDF but submitted as a separate attachment via email.

The merged and editable pdf file must be signed (can be a digital signature) and should include all associated attachments. Please consult with your IT department regarding how to merge all files into a single PDF document before submission in the order you wish to present. This is the document that is kept for the database for future reference and has to be searchable. If the size of the document is over 20MB, you may submit it via a secure Dropbox link.

This merged PDF document must be editable (ie not locked, not password protected, not submitted as a jpeg file, not be the scanned version of a hard copy set). This is to enable members to be able to, for example, search for words in the application form.

If the researchers submit individual files rather than a single merged pdf file, the new proposal or modification will not be included in the agenda.

Please email a copy of the protocol as a separate attachment. The Committee advises that researchers should include all details necessary for review on the application form and attachments. AHREC meetings run at capacity and the Committee will not cross-reference details included in the application form vs the study protocol. Please ensure that your AHREC application is not a simple copy-paste exercise and that the most critical information is included and that you respond to questions directly. For example, please do not leave the table/list of variables you wish to access in a data linkage study, an interview schedule in a qualitative study, or the survey itself in a quantitative study back in the protocol. These, and such other information that can be deemed critical, should be included in the application form or as attachments.

+-Instructions and FAQ

  • As per the AHREC Communique dated 17/6/2020, all researchers are required to plan and conduct their existing and new studies involving direct contact in line with the public health advice about COVID-19 safety. The researchers must monitor and obey the public health advice provided nationally and by SA Health, and all Federal and jurisdictional laws, regulations and directives, particularly those of concerning Aboriginal communities.
  • Please address the reviewers in your correspondence, eg 'Dear AHREC Chairperson and Members…'
  • Forms: AHREC no longer accepts previous versions of forms that you may have utilised for your submission, modification or reports. Please check if you are submitting the latest version of the application, modification or annual/final reporting form by downloading the relevant document from the links below.
  • Word Count: Applications that do not follow the instructions may be denied review. You are required to follow the word limit of up to 300 words per question and this is no longer negotiable; the Committee requires applications to clearly design appropriate methods to answer study aims and articulate and address core ethical issues in a succinct manner. If an application is written or coordinated by a student or an inexperienced researcher, and AHREC identifies significant issues, the Committee may refer the applicant to the supervisor, research office or the Head of School for further support and may require a re-submission.
  • Intro Page: You may attach a one-page cover letter e.g. a synopsis about the study as the first page that will be reviewed before the application form.
  • Applications to AHREC must be submitted utilising AHREC’s application form. AHREC does not accept NEAF, HREA or other HRECs’ application forms.
  • Where all necessary information is over the word limit, the researchers may attach other documents as required for review eg a data de-identification protocol flow chart, distress protocol, a list of variables accessed etc.
  • The merged PDF must be submitted to the Executive Officer by 5pm on the due date if they are to be included on the agenda of the scheduled AHREC meeting.
  • Depending on the meeting agenda, the Committee may limit the number of new proposals for review, which may mean some proposals are held until the subsequent AHREC meeting.
  • It is advised that researchers allow at least 3 week days for delivery should they use Express Post. It is the researchers’ responsibility to make necessary arrangements for their application to meet the deadlines. Applications received after the deadlines will be held until the next round.
  • If you are based in Adelaide, you may deliver your application sets to reception at AHCSA, 220 Franklin Street, Adelaide CBD. Please do not request impromptu meetings on the due date when you are dropping off your application.
  • Please clearly mark all correspondence with AHREC as ‘CONFIDENTIAL’.
  • AHREC requires the signature of only the principal researcher (this may be electronic), and only the contact details of other researchers involved.
  • CVs of researchers are not required.
  • Please do not change the formatting of the application form or remove page numbers.

+-Electronic version submission address

  • Proposal Application Form – download the form here
  • Modification Request Form – download the form here
    • If you are seeking approval for a modification to the research protocol or submitting a minor modification request within original parameters of approval, you are required to use the modification request form.
    • If you are seeking only an extension to the approval duration or providing a personnel update, this can be submitted via email for noting to the file. If, however, the request includes an extension request or personnel update AND a modification to the research protocol, then you are required to utilise the modification request form.
  • Annual Progress or Final Reporting Template by the Principal Researcher – download the form here

Submission address: Manager, Research and Ethics via email Gokhan.Ayturk@ahcsa.org.au

+-Submission Deadlines

Submission DeadlinesAHREC Meeting Dates – 2021
25 January8 February
15 February1 March
29 March12 April
27 April***10 May
24 May7 June
26 July9 August
30 August13 September
27 September11 October
25 October8 November
29 November13 December

*** Submission deadline on 26 April coincides with the public holiday, thereby is extended to COB 27 April.


AHREC monitors all of the research projects that it has approved. It is important to the Committee that people participating in approved projects have an independent and confidential reporting mechanism which they can use if they have any worries or complaints about that research.

If you have questions or problems associated with the practical aspects of your participation in a research project, or wish to raise a concern or complaint, then you should consult the project coordinator whose details are on the project’s Information Sheet.

If you wish to discuss matters with an independent person, including complaints and concerns as a researcher, you can also contact Manager, Research and Ethics at Gokhan.Ayturk@ahcsa.org.au

+-Covid-19 Pandemic Related AHREC Updates