Date: 
Friday 11 February 2011

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda will launch his first Social Justice and Native Title Reports in Sydney today (Friday, 11 February).

Commissioner Gooda devotes a chapter of his Social Justice Report to discussing the history-making opportunity the nation now faces as it considers recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution.

“The recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples provides us with the rare opportunity for nation-building when we, the Australian people, direct the transformation of the nation and its identity.

“Building a nation based on respect for the dignity and humanity of the first peoples of this land is something to which all Australians should strive.”

The Report expands on the priorities for his term and also spotlights the courageous steps taken by communities of the Fitzroy Valley in Western Australia to address the problem of alcohol abuse and outlines how this community moved itself from crisis to control.

“Building positive relationships based on trust and mutual respect between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community is critical to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“From meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout Australia over the last year I have determined that the best focus for my term as Commissioner must be underpinned by the unshakeable and personal commitments of addressing disadvantage still faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and working to achieve a truly reconciled Australia.”

The 2010 Social Justice Report makes the case for full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also focuses on the need for stronger and deeper relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community, between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and governments, and within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities themselves.

Using the experience of the Fitzroy Valley communities, the Report examines the ways in which these communities have taken control of spiralling alcohol-fuelled social and health problems, including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, to offer governments around the nation a tried and effective model to reform the way they do business.
“It is quite simple. Governments will be more effective if they develop service delivery models in collaboration with local communities,” Commissioner Gooda said.

The 2010 Native Title Report outlines the practical steps needed to engage in meaningful and effective consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and provides guidance to governments wanting to deliver sustainable and beneficial outcomes for Traditional Owners.

The Report focuses on building understanding and respect for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to their lands, territories and resources.

“Creating a just and fair native title system through law and policy reform requires effective engagement between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, “Commissioner Gooda said.

“For this reason, ‘relationship-building’ and ‘effective engagement’ are common threads that run throughout my Native Title Report.

“There remains an urgent need for governments to improve their engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In relation to native title, this means we’ve also got to start getting agreement-making in the native title system right,” Commissioner Gooda said.

The Report highlights how government failures to engage effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been the subject of international scrutiny and repeats calls from international  human rights bodies that Australia consult with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples adequately before adopting laws and policies that concern rights to lands, territories and resources.

“I analyse the relevance of consultation and consent to the design and implementation of ‘special measures’ under the Racial Discrimination Act and then considerthe consultation processes in relation to two law reform initiatives recently pursued by the Australian Government,” Commissioner Gooda said.

Focusing on the Native Title Amendment Bill (No 2) and amendments to the provisions of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 andthe power of the Australian Government to compulsorily acquire five-year leases over certain land, the Report describes the relevant consultation processes as inadequate in several key aspects. Further, it suggests that inadequacy of the consultation calls into question whether these measures can properly be regarded as special measures under the RDA.

“While I am pleased that the Australian Government is committed to the principle of strong engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and improving the native title system, events during 2009-2010 have demonstrated that there is much room for improvement in the Australian Government’s approach to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Commissioner Gooda said.

The 2010 Native Title Report is underpinned by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and identifies access to financial, technical and other assistance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as one feature essential to a meaningful and effective consultation process.

The 2010 Social Justice and Native Title Reports are being launched today in Sydney at Turner Hall, Building B – Ultimo College of TAFE NSW- Sydney Institute, Maryanne Street, Ultimo, from 11.00-2.00pm.

The 2010 Social Justice Report can be found at www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/sj_report/sjreport10/ and the Native Title Report at www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/nt_report/ntreport10/

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Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597