Mick Dodson – Australian of year – unfinished business

Reconciliation waits compensation, says Mick Dodson

David Nason, New York correspondent | May 28, 2009
Article from: The Australian

MICK Dodson has accused Australia’s native title system of bias against Aboriginal claimants and warned that reconciliation will not be achieved until the Stolen Generations are paid compensation along the radical lines recommended in the 1997 Bringing Them Home report.

Speaking in New York, the veteran Aboriginal activist and Australian of the Year said native title law should be changed so the onus of proof rested with state and territory governments, not Aboriginal claimants.

He said reconciliation’s other “unfinished business” included the social justice package promised to Aborigines in mid-1990s native title negotiations but never delivered; the outstanding recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody; and bridging the 11.8-year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people.

“There is a lot of unfinished business; we still haven’t properly dealt with the question of lands,” Professor Dodson said.

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“The big problem we have at the moment is we have a native title system that is very unfair, that makes it almost practically impossible for indigenous people to get land back.

“We need to fix that because the sense of injustice over land is not going to go away.”

Professor Dodson’s remarks, his most forthright since being named Australian of the Year in January, came after he addressed a function at the Australian consulate in New York.

He said fixing native title was fundamental to achieving reconciliation but the system was failing: “The states and territories have all the information, so why shouldn’t they disprove our native title claims instead of us having to prove them?”

He stands firm on the compensation provisions of the Bringing Them Home report, which he co-wrote, saying they were “fundamental” to reconciliation.

The report recommended compensation be paid individually and collectively to direct victims of the removal policies, their immediate families and dependants and any other people or groups connected to a direct victim. Some estimates put the total number of potential claimants under these provisions at more than 100,000. The Rudd Government has followed the Howard government in rejecting the recommendation.

In his address, Professor Dodson spoke of the important role played by the UN in “validating the indigenous experience”.

He said Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations last year had been a “transformative experience” for Australia because it had produced a new “respectful relationship” between indigenous and non-indigenous people.