Previous Possessions, New Obligations was launched in 1993, the International Year for the World's Indigenous People, as a policy framework to guide the development of relationships between museums in Australia and Indigenous Australians. The objectives of the policy were to provide guidelines for developing protocols, policies and procedures based on consultation with Indigenous people in dealing with human remains, secret/sacred material, the general collections of Indigenous cultural material; including Indigenous people in research and public programs; and issues of governance. It was a document expressing the values which would underpin the qualities of new relationships between museums in Australia and Indigenous Australians.
An evaluation of the policy was conducted in 2000 a collaboration between the Australian Museum Audience Research Centre, Sydney and Museums Australia Inc, Canberra. The evaluation found that the policy had substantially met its goals particularly in establishing the primary rights of Indigenous people to control their cultural heritage in museum collections. However, a range of substantially new issues emerged which require new policy responses and initiatives.