Supporting the Declaration is the next step

Friday, 12 September 2008

The Australian government should move quickly to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said today, on the eve of the first anniversary of the Declaration’s passing at the UN.

“The Declaration is fundamentally about participation and engagement with Indigenous peoples,” Commissioner Calma said.

“It is a positive, aspirational document that recognises the rights that are inherent for Indigenous peoples rather than leaving it up to governments to decide whether or not Indigenous people possess such rights, or deserve protection or recognition.

“It gives us the tools we need to forge new partnerships and relationships between Indigenous peoples and the broader Australian community.

“The sooner the federal government formally indicates support for the UN Declaration, the sooner we can see true, respectful and meaningful engagement with Indigenous peoples resulting in better designed policies and services,” Mr Calma said.

Commissioner Calma said the Declaration had its genesis more than 30 years ago and it had been disappointing that Australia was one of only four countries to vote against adoption of the Declaration in September last year.

“Formally supporting the Declaration now will send an unambiguous signal to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to the world, that Australia respects the standards contained in the Declaration – such as the need to recognise and respect the unique characteristics of Indigenous people,” Mr Calma said.

He said consultations undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission with Indigenous people about their hopes for the Declaration included calls for education and awareness raising about the Declaration, and for it to be implemented in the domestic legal system. There were hopes that it would bring about better working relationships between governments and Indigenous peoples at the grassroots level.

“The Declaration should not be seen as merely a symbolic act, but rather something that we rely on and act consistently on within Australia,” Mr Calma said.

“The Declaration is not about special status – it is about maintaining identity and ensuring that marginalised cultures and those vulnerable to exploitation are not lost with the full human tragedy that goes with that,” Mr Calma said.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has a range of resources on the Declaration online at: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/declaration/comments.html