Failure to Advance the Rights of Australia’s Indigenous People Contributing to ‘Intergenerational Trauma and Racism’

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Failure to Advance the Rights of Australia’s Indigenous People Contributing to ‘Intergenerational Trauma and Racism’

‘It is woefully inadequate that, despite having enjoyed over two decades of economic growth, Australia has not been able to improve the social disadvantage of its indigenous population. The existing measures are clearly insufficient as evidenced by the lack of progress in achieving the “Close the Gap” targets.’

Today, at the United Nations Human Rights Council sitting, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples reported on her visit to Australia. The report investigated human rights concerns facing indigenous Australians today and found that the absence of constitutional recognition or developing a treaty was perpetuating the ‘structural powerlessness’ that faces indigenous Australians. Further, the absence of a legislative bill of rights limits the protection of indigenous people under Australian law. International law concepts of self-determination and participation agreed to by Australia have not been implemented and has had consequential impacts on health, education and employment in the “Closing the Gap” strategy.

Of the seven targets under the strategy only one has been met, to halve the gap in Year 12 attainment rates. In 2015, nearly 45 per cent of indigenous people had reported a disability or a long-term health condition with inadequate access to medical care. The continuing rollout of the compulsory income management, a remnant mechanism from the Northern Territory Intervention, has left indigenous people ‘stigmatised’, underpaid and experiencing government intrusion into privacy.

The administrative failings of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy has removed control from indigenous agencies to a centralised government agency that then engages organisations that lack any connection to the indigenous groups they were assisting. This has impacted public trust between indigenous people and government. Indigenous incarceration rates remain disproportionately high relative to the Australian population, despite recommendations to address the problem over 25 years ago in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 1991. Removal of children and violence against women also remain as social problems that are disproportionately high relative to the Australian population. The Special Rapporteur also commented on the recent watering down of native title laws in response to the McGlade decision that removed the requirement that indigenous land use agreements require the signature of all native title claimants.

The recommendations from the Special Rapporteur included

  • Supporting a First Nations Voice in the Constitution and undertaking treaty negotiation
  • Creation of a Constitutional Bill of Rights and a Human Rights Act
  • Revise the “Indigenous Advancement Strategy” and the “Closing the Gap” strategy targets and include new targets such as reducing incarceration
  • Increase investment in health services and associated education, cultural awareness and indigenous-led health research
  • Create culturally relevant education programs including the teaching of indigenous languages

More recommendations can be read in the full report here.

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