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Macklin, Jenny --- "Federal Government Formally Endorses the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples"  IndigLawB 10; (2009) 7(11) Indigenous Law Bulletin 6
Federal Government Formally Endorses the Declaration on the Rights of
Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny
Parliament House, Canberra
April 3, 2009
takes another important step in re-setting the relationship between Indigenous
and non-Indigenous Australians and
moving forward towards a new future.
Today, Australia joins the international community to affirm the aspirations of
all Indigenous peoples.
We show our respect for Indigenous peoples.
We show our faith in a new era of relations between states and Indigenous
peoples grounded in good faith, goodwill and mutual respect.
The work of drafting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples began in 1985.
The Declaration was more than twenty years in the making.
For the first time governments worked directly with Indigenous peoples to
develop a significant human rights statement.
The decades of work culminated in a landmark document. A document that reflects
and pays homage to the unique place of Indigenous
peoples and their entitlement
to all human rights as recognised in international law.
Indigenous Australians made a significant contribution to the development of the
Today cannot pass without paying tribute to a number of Indigenous Australians
whose leadership and efforts were central to the development
Les Malezer, Chair of the International Indigenous Peoples' Caucus and a
recipient of the Australian Human Rights Medal.
Professor Lowitja O'Donoghue, former Australian of the Year and former
Chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.
Professor Mick Dodson, Australian of the Year, Member of the UN Permanent Forum
on Indigenous Issues.
Tom Calma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
Commissioner, and his predecessor, Dr Bill Jonas.
Megan Davis, Former United Nations Indigenous Fellow and Director of the
Indigenous Law Centre.
And the many others - too many to name.
I'd also like to recognise the efforts of Indigenous NGOs.
It is a testament to the steadfast commitment of the United Nations Working
Group that they stayed the course.
Driven by a common purpose to formally articulate international respect for the
world's Indigenous peoples.
On 17 September 2007, 143 nations voted in support of the Declaration.
Australia was one of four countries that voted against the Declaration.
Today, Australia changes its position.
Today, Australia gives our support to the Declaration.
We do this in the spirit of re-setting the relationship between Indigenous and
non-Indigenous Australians and building trust.
Last week an Aboriginal woman wrote to tell me she was moved to tears by
Australia's support of the Declaration.
She said that Australia's support recognises our common humanity.
She wrote that ‘many of our old people, our elders and leaders, including
the heads of our families and clans know that closing
the gap is not just about
bricks and mortar, it is about self esteem, pride, acceptance, and a recognition
of the humanity of our
The universal aspirations contained in the Declaration can help build
understanding and trust.
This will take time. Relationships will be tested and will evolve.
The Declaration gives us new impetus to work together in trust and good
faith to advance human rights and close the gap between Indigenous and
The Declaration recognises the legitimate entitlement of Indigenous
people to all human rights - based on principles of equality, partnership, good
faith and mutual benefit.
Article 1 of the Declaration states:
Indigenous peoples have the
right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human
rights and fundamental freedoms
as recognised in international law.
Entitlement to these rights underpins the important work of the Australian Human
And with solemn reflection on our history and the failed policies of the past,
we acknowledge Articles 8 and 10 - I quote:
Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to
forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
And I quote again:
Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or
Today Australia takes another important step to make sure that the flawed
policies of the past will never be re-visited.
The Declaration is historic and aspirational.
While it is non-binding and does not affect existing Australian law, it sets
important international principles for nations to aspire
Australia's existing obligations under international human rights treaties are
mirrored in the Declaration's fundamental principles.
The Declaration needs to be considered in its totality - each provision
as part of the whole.
Through the Article on self-determination, the Declaration recognises the
entitlement of Indigenous peoples to have control over their destiny and to be
Article 46 makes it clear that the Declaration cannot be used to impair
Australia's territorial integrity or political unity.
We want Indigenous peoples to participate fully in Australia's democracy.
Australia's Indigenous peoples must be able to realise their full potential in
Australian and international affairs.
We support Indigenous peoples' aspiration to develop a level of economic
independence so they can manage their own affairs and maintain
culture and identity.
Australia is a longstanding party to the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant
on Civil and Political
Rights and supports their aims and principles.
We also respect the desire, both past and present, of Indigenous peoples to
maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship
with land and
The Indigenous land rights movement has a proud place in Australia's history
with a range of State and Territory and Federal laws
ownership. For example, the federal Native Title Act 1993 provides
statutory recognition for common law rights of native title following the
historic High Court Mabo decision.
Australia's laws concerning land rights and native title are not altered by our
support of the Declaration.
Indigenous peoples now own or manage nearly 20% of the Australian continent -
amounting to over 1.5 million square kilometres.
Around half the Northern Territory is now owned by Aboriginal people under
Australian legislation and cannot be sold.
Where possible, the Australian Government encourages land use and ownership
issues to be resolved through mediation and negotiation
The ownership and management of land gives Indigenous Australians the capacity
to forge new partnerships and pursue economic development.
And to further the social, cultural and economic aims of Indigenous peoples, the
Indigenous Land Fund will continue to be used to
purchase freehold land -
building on a range of other government programs to work with Indigenous
Australians in managing natural
The Declaration recognises the basic, fundamental truth that Indigenous
peoples and individuals are equal to all other peoples and individuals. They
should be able to live their lives free from prejudice and harmful
The fundamental prohibition against racial discrimination is legally and
internationally enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of Racial
The Government has announced that it will introduce legislation to lift the
suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern
And we are working to tackle prejudice through education and awareness.
Article 7 of the Declaration recognises that Indigenous peoples have the
right to lives that are safe, secure and free from intimidation and violence.
And it is their collective right to live in freedom, peace and security.
Article 22 of the Declaration also acknowledges that particular attention
is needed for vulnerable people including elders, women, youth, children and
Inherent in the Declaration is the basic right of women and children to
safe and healthy lives.
These rights are given force in the Convention on the Rights of the Child
and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
We have set ambitious targets for closing the gap and are implementing sweeping
policy reforms to tackle entrenched problems.
We want Indigenous peoples to be our partners in closing the gap. Indigenous
peoples must have the opportunity to develop and drive
solutions if we, as a
nation are to achieve real, lasting change.
The right of Indigenous peoples to improve their economic and social conditions,
in the areas of education, employment, housing and
health is central to
All Australians have an equal right to the basic building blocks of economic and
social prosperity - healthy living, a decent house,
the skills and training to
get a job.
Indigenous children must have the opportunity to have the same quality of
education as other Australian children.
And we are mindful of the importance of enhancing respect for Indigenous
cultures through this education.
We want all Australians to participate fully and freely in our democratic
While there is continuing international debate about the meaning of 'free, prior
and informed consent', we will consider any future
interpretations in accordance
with Article 46.
We recognise how important it is for Indigenous Australians to have a voice, and
a means to express it.
As parents in their children's health and education.
As the people with the greatest stake in closing the gap; as the people
essential to driving lasting change.
We need to find more ways of hearing Indigenous voices:
• Through the establishment of a national representative body to give
Indigenous people a voice in national affairs - being
led by the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.
• Through public consultation on key policy decisions.
• Through our support for Indigenous leadership.
• And through our support for progress towards constitutional
We look forward to continuing our work at international levels to promote the
human rights of Indigenous peoples.
And we welcome the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous peoples, Professor James
Anaya, in his visit to Australia later this year.
Today we celebrate the great privilege all Australians have to live alongside
the custodians of the oldest continuing cultures in
We recognise the right of Indigenous Australians to practise, revitalise and
sustain their cultural, religious and spiritual traditions
We celebrate the vital positive contribution of Indigenous culture to
And we honour Indigenous Australians who so generously share their culture,
knowledge and traditions.
We pay tribute to them, to their ancestors and the generations to come.
In supporting the Declaration, Australia today takes another important
step towards re-setting relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous
Working together to close the gap.
Overcoming the legacy of the past and shaping the future together.