Thursday, 30 April 2009

Reports show way forward for new partnership between government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

The federal government should take six major steps over the next 18 months to better protect the human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to progress a new agenda for Indigenous affairs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma has said in the Social Justice Report 2008 tabled today.

Commissioner Calma, whose Native Title Report 2008 was tabled today as well, has also called for the Native Title Act to be amended to provide a presumption of continuity by Indigenous claimants.

Produced annually by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, the Reports consider the impact of government activity on the exercise and enjoyment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s human rights and analyse major changes and challenges in the Native Title system over the previous year.

“The federal government has made significant progress toward resetting the relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since it delivered the National Apology to members of the Stolen Generations in February last year,” Commissioner Calma said.

“While this momentum has continued with the government’s recent formal endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we must not become complacent and rest on our laurels.

“A new partnership between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the governments of this country can only be sustainable if some fundamental actions are implemented and human rights are made a central part of the new partnership.

“Firstly, a national Human Rights Act should be passedthat includes specific protection of Indigenous rights.

“The Constitution should be amended to recognise Indigenous peoples in the preamble, and its discriminatory provisions should be removed and replaced with a guarantee of equal treatment and non-discrimination,” he said.

Commissioner Calma said a credible national Indigenous representative body should be established and a framework developed to guide negotiations with Indigenous people in addressing the unfinished business of reconciliation.

“Sitting on top of all of this however, is the need for a focus on human rights education which should be pursued to build a culture of human rights recognition and respect.”

Mr Calma said the national Indigenous healing body announced by the federal government earlier this year should be established with a broad range of functions and should aim to develop a nationally consistent approach to compensation for members of the Stolen Generations. He also called for the government, as a matter of urgency, to put in place a properly-funded, long-term plan of action to achieve Indigenous health equality and to objectively monitor its progress.

Commissioner Calma said the Native Title Report 2008analysed the threat posed by climate change to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their lands, waters and resources in Australia, as well as the maintenance of their traditional life, languages and cultures.

“Our communities require specific support to put in place measures to adapt to climate change but we also have new opportunities, mainly through our traditional knowledge, to participate in emerging carbon markets and further mitigation efforts,” he said.

As well as examining the challenge of climate change for Australia’s Indigenous peoples, the Native Title Report 2008 calls on the government to move decisively to make legislative and policy changes to the underlying Native Title system in order to achieve its goal of seeing ‘more, and better, outcomes delivered through native title processes’.

“It is a cruel twist that the more an Indigenous community has been hurt by the policies of forcible removal, the less likely it is they will be able to have their native title recognised,” Mr Calma said.

“That’s why improvements to the native title system need to be enshrined in legislation to ensure that the rights of Indigenous peoples are fully protected and not swept aside when it’s convenient.

“The government must take active steps to improve the whole system - tinkering at the edges won’t deliver the changes that are urgently needed.”

The Social Justice Report 2008 is available at The Native Title Report 2008 is available at


The Social Justice Report 2008 and the Native Title Report 2008 will be officially launched in Sydney on Monday, 4 May at 11.00 am at Turner Hall, Building B, Ultimo College of TAFE, Mary Ann street Ultimo.

The launch will include an introduction by The Hon Catherine Branson QC, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, a keynote address by Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Race Discrimination Commissioner and a panel discussion of the topic ‘A new agenda for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?’

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