human rights news & views

Australia endorses indigenous rights at last

The Australian Government today gave its formal support to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice CommissionerAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma (pictured right), called it a "giant step":

"another milestone in the new partnership forged between Indigenous peoples and governments in February last year with the National Apology to the Stolen Generations."

"The Declaration clearly puts Indigenous Australians in the driving seat in relation to decisions which affect us in all areas of life," said Calma.

He also called for this historic commitment to be backed immediately with a 'comprehensive national action plan' to ensure health equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, with Indigenous people involved in the planning and implementation of the plan.

One indicator of current inequality is that Indigenous Australians are die on average about 17 years earlier than non-Indigenous Australians.

Indigenous infant mortality is twice the rate of the general population.  Cardiovascular disease is 2.5 times more common; respiratory disease 4 times more prevalent.

Minister Jenny MacklinRights declarations are not typically signed or ratified like treaties, nor are they legally binding, but the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin (pictured left), today made a formal statement in parliament in support of the 2006 Indigenous peoples' Declaration:

"Today Australia joins the international community to affirm the aspirations of all Indigenous peoples . . . Relationships will be tested and they will evolve, but the Declaration gives us new impetus to work together in trust and good faith.  Today Australia takes another step to make sure the flawed policies of the past will never be revisited."

This stands in stark contrast with the previous conservative Government, which sought to derail the Declaration.  Even now, the Coalition describes the Declaration as flawed and the Government's endorsement of it as a "grave error ".

Only Canada, Aotearoa/New Zealand and the United States remain in formal opposition to the Declaration.

Commissioner Calma described the significance of the Declaration as providing,

Prof. Mick Dodson"a set of internationally endorsed objective standards to guide the relationship with Indigenous peoples, and to promote actions that respected and protected Indigenous cultures."

2009 Australian of the Year, Prof. Mick Dodson (pictured right), spoke at this morning's ceremony, reminding the country that the value of human rights instruments is in their implementation:

"The standards have been set; it is up to us to meet them."


  1. 20 April 2009 | 1:34 pm

    James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people; John Henriksen, the Chairperson-Rapportueur of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Victoria Tauli-Corupz, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues described Australia’s endorsement of the Declaration as of “crucial importance”.

    Read more:
    Experts hail Australia’s backing of UN declaration of indigenous peoples’ rights
    UN News Centre, 3 April 2009

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