Community Guide to the Social Justice and Native Title Reports 2005
- A note from the Commissioner
- The Indigenous Health Challenge
- Equality within a generation
- The Indigenous land tenure debate
- 12 months on ... the new arrangements for Indigenous affairs
- Fact Sheets
- Key terms
- Download the Community Guide in PDF
As you may know, my role as Social Justice Commissioner
requires me to produce two annual reports on Indigenous rights issues
- the Social Justice Report and the Native Title Report.
Last year we produced a Community Guide aimed at giving readers an
overview of the main issues in the reports. Following positive feedback
we have once again put together an easy-to-read outline on the major
developments and challenges in Indigenous affairs over the past year.
In my first 12 months as Commissioner, I have engaged with governments on
a range of issues and have worked to establish a regular process for dialogue
with government and key groups. I also visited Indigenous communities
across Australia listening to the views of many Indigenous Australians. In
the past year, I have completed a number of projects including:
- A report on Indigenous young people with cognitive (brain function)
disabilities and the Australian juvenile justice system;
- Contributing to a submission to the Senate Select Committee on
Mental Health, outlining the mental health concerns of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander people;
- Participating in working group meetings on the Draft Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations in Geneva;
- A range of projects relating to the 30th Anniversary of the Racial
Over the coming year, my Office will continue to focus on issues that have
been identified in the Social Justice and Native Title Reports.
Tom Calma is the Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Social
Tom, an Aboriginal elder from
the Kungarakan tribal group and
a member of the Iwaidja tribal
group of the Northern Territory,
commenced his five-year term in
In this position, the Commissioner
advocates for the recognition
of the rights of Indigenous
Australians and seeks to promote
respect and understanding of
these rights among the broader
Tom has been involved in
Indigenous affairs at a local,
community, state, national
and international level and has
worked in the public sector for
over 30 years.
'Angelina and Baby'
Bathurst Island 2004 © Heide Smith
"I am recommending that the
governments of Australia commit
to achieving equality of health
status and life expectation between
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples and non-Indigenous people
within 25 years."
Tom Calma, Social Justice Commissioner, 2005
IMPROVING THE HEALTH STATUS OF ABORIGINAL and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a
longstanding challenge for governments in
Australia. While there have been some
improvements since the 1970"s, overall progress
has been slow and inconsistent. The inequality
gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples and other Australians remains
wide and has not been significantly reduced.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples do
not have an equal opportunity to be as healthy
as non-Indigenous Australians. Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples do not enjoy equal access to primary health care and health
infrastructure which includes safe drinking
water, effective sewerage systems, rubbish
collection services and healthy housing.
Governments have made commitments to
try and address Indigenous health inequality
but always without a specified time frame.
Incremental funding increases have not been
enough to match Indigenous health needs
and, although there have been a number of
well intentioned strategies and frameworks in
Australia, there are few improvements to the
health of Indigenous Australians.
The data remains bleak and shows only slow
improvements in some areas of health status
with no progress on others over the past
decade. However, significant work has been
completed over the past 3 years to reinvigorate
the commitments of governments to address
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health
inequality through the National Strategic
Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
This National Strategic Framework sets the
foundation for future work in the area of
Indigenous health inequality. The need to
address Indigenous health from a holistic
perspective is identified as an essential
commitment governments should make. Such
an approach means that governments must
commit to working in a holistic manner at a
program and policy level, to take a whole of
government approach, and most importantly, to
do this in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples.
The Social Justice Report 2005 proposes a human
rights based campaign to address the health
inequality of Indigenous Australians and asks
governments to commit to addressing the
health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples within a set timeframe. The
human rights based approach advocates that
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a right to health.
The right to health has 4 essential elements:
It is a realistic aim for governments to commit
to ensuring an equitable distribution of primary
health care and equitable standards of health
infrastructure (such as water, sanitation, food and
housing) in a time period of no more than 10 years.
Further, it is realistic for governments to commit
to the goal of achieving equality of health status
and life expectation within the next generation.
This would be in approximately 25 years.
Governments must commit to increased funding
levels that match the needs of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander communities.
The main emphasis in rolling out the human
rights based approach is for governments to
build on already existing structures
such as the National Strategic Framework
and to incorporate a number of monitoring
mechanisms to make sure that governments are
accountable. It is recommended that the goals
and aims of the National Strategic Framework
for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health be incorporated into the operation of the new
arrangements for Indigenous affairs and in
particular the Indigenous Coordination Centres.
This means that the whole of government
structures that have been developed through
the new arrangements for Indigenous affairs will
be utilised and further built upon.
The Social Justice Report 2005 proposes that the
Australian Health Minister’s Conference agree to
a National Commitment to achieve Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Health Equality and that bipartisan
support for this commitment be sought
in federal Parliament and in all state and territory
This would mean that all governments commit
to a program of action to address this inequality
and aim to achieve equality of opportunity in the
provision of health care and health infrastructure
in 10 years.
Governments should also commit to continue to
work to achieve improved access to mainstream
services as well as continued support for
community controlled health services with the
full participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
The National Commitment by governments
should acknowledge that achieving such
equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples will contribute significantly to the
Bathurst Island, 2004.
Copyright © Heide Smith.
The Native Title Report 2005 focuses on the
Australian Government"s proposal to encourage
private ownership and private leases on
In 2005, the Prime Minister announced that he
wanted to make "native title and communal land
work better" by adding "opportunities for families
and communities to build economic independence
and wealth through use of their communal land
The National Indigenous Council"s Indigenous
Land Tenure Principles were published soon after
the Prime Minister"s statement. These principles
are directly aligned with the Prime Minister"s
statement. The National Indigenous Council
principles are designed to secure "improved social
and economic outcomes from [the Indigenous]
land base, now and into the future, but in a way
that maintains Indigenous communal ownership."
While the intention to build economic
independence on Indigenous land is welcomed
and desirable, the Native Title Report 2005 argues
that there are concerns about the content of the
Indigenous Land Tenure Principles.
The Native Title Report 2005 argues that
individual lease options will not improve
economic and social outcomes on Indigenous
land. While land that is Indigenous-owned,
controlled or set aside for the use of Indigenous
peoples comprises approximately 16 percent
of the area of Australia, the bulk of it is very
remotely located and lacking the most basic
infrastructure. This is one of the primary
impediments to economic development.
Furthermore, under existing arrangements, it is
currently possible for Indigenous people to take
out individual leases in every state and territory.
Despite this existing opportunity, economic
development has not flourished to date.
Individual leasing of communally owned land is
not, in itself, the solution to improve social and
economic outcomes for Indigenous peoples.
The Native Title Report 2005 argues that in their
current form, the Indigenous Land Tenure
Principles do not consider the various
factors that impede opportunities for
economic development on Indigenous
land. They include:
- native title law allows
very few rights to land
development and land assets. In
most cases, native title provides traditional
owners with little more than access to
- much of the land under native title
and land rights is marginal, arid desert
or geographically isolated, and there
is limited potential for economic
- much of the land under native title or land
rights lacks the most basic infrastructure
to support development projects;
- the entities with responsibility to progress
native title interests to land,1 have either
no funding, or insecure funding;
- many Indigenous people in remote
communities lack access to employment,
and the means by which to repay
mortgages or other debts to land; and
- to date, there has been a lack of
government policy to support economic
development initiatives on Indigenous
In order to promote economic
development and to support
governments must increase
resources for both infrastructure
and enterprise development projects.
Government policy and commitment
is required to support and sustain these
activities over time. Maintaining traditional
owner governance over land is essential in
the development of these projects.
International experience tells us that carving
Indigenous land into small private land parcels
creates more problems than it solves. Other
countries, including NZ and USA, have attempted
to remove communal land rights, and they are
now reversing these policies. Australia should
not make the mistakes that have been made
In addition to presenting arguments about land
tenure, the Native Title Report 2005 outlines
human rights concerns with the Indigenous Land
Principle 4 proposes that in order to facilitate the
process of granting individual leases:
the consent of traditional owners should not
be unreasonably withheld for requests for
individual leasehold interests for contemporary
involuntary measures should not be used
except as a last resort and, in the event of any
compulsory acquisition, strictly on the existing
basis of just terms compensation2
This principle is at odds with the very purpose
of land rights and native title rights. The Native
Title Report 2005 argues that Principle 4 is
not consistent with Australia"s obligations to
protect the rights of its Indigenous citizens,
and if implemented, would breach the Racial
Discrimination Act 1975.
For traditional owners, the proposed Indigenous
Land Tenure Principles may represent a foreign
and Western view of wealth creation, which may
be at odds with traditional views of communal
ownership and communal tenure. Therefore,
the Native Title Report 2005 advocates the
requirement for parties to obtain the free, prior
and informed consent of traditional land owners
before any amendments are made to legislation
or policy affecting Indigenous interests to land.
See the NIC principles online at: www.atsia.gov.au/NIC/communique/PDFs/LandTenure.pdf
See the Native Title Report 2005 online at www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/ntreport05/
or for a hard copy contact 1300 369 711.
This ocean image is taken near Broome, Western Australia. In the foreground is a midden
(a sandbank covered with shells discarded by the local people after the contents were
eaten). Below the midden are the mangroves where all types of seafood is hunted and
collected and finally, the beautiful warm waters. © Wayne Quilliam.
1 Prescribed Bodies Corporate
2 National Indigenous Council, Indigenous Land Tenure Principles,
2005, emphasis added, <http://www.atsia.gov.au/NIC/communique/PDFs/LandTenure.pdf>
This fire image was taken in the Kimberleys in Western Australia, as with many
Aboriginal groups throughout Australia fire is used to regenerate the land, the natural
process has been used for tens of thousands of years to sustain the earth.
© Wayne Quilliam.
In last year's Social Justice Report I committed to monitoring how the new
arrangements for Indigenous affairs impacts on
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples"enjoyment of their human rights.
A key human rights issue in the new
arrangements is the quality of Indigenous
Human rights law requires that when
governments make decisions about issues
such as: Indigenous peoples" socio-economic
development; self-determination; right to
non-discrimination or their right to different
and appropriate treatment as minority cultural
groups, that Indigenous peoples are able to
participate in the decision-making process.
Effective participation ensures that decisions are
not imposed on people and communities.
The Social Justice Report 2005 identifies four
elements to ensuring effective participation:
- INDIGENOUS REPRESENTATION AT ALL
LEVELS OF DECISION MAKING
Gaps still remain in Indigenous representation
at local, regional and national levels.
Regional representative bodies should be
established as soon as possible, particularly
through Regional Partnership Agreements
- PROCESSES FOR GOVERNMENT
ENGAGEMENT WITH INDIGENOUS
The new arrangements promise
improvements to the way governments
engage with Indigenous peoples and
The creation of regional Indigenous
Coordination Centres (ICCs), or government
"one stop shops", are one way this may be
achieved, however, 12 months on it is still too
early to assess their success.
- MECHANISMS FOR ENSURING
ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY
The new arrangements aim to improve the
lives of Indigenous peoples - their health,
education, communities etc.
But without the existence of better
monitoring and evaluation processes it is
difficult to tell whether the new arrangements
are improving things or not.
- INDIGENOUS PARTICIPATION THROUGH
AGREEMENT MAKING AND PLANNING
Shared Responsibility Agreements (SRAs),
highlight the need for the effective
participation of Indigenous peoples, are
discussed in detail below.
Shared Responsibility Agreements
In examining whether a SRA is in breach
of human rights, it is important to look at
each agreement individually and not make
generalisations. Factors to take into
account include whether a SRA
was negotiated according
to the principle
of free, prior
consent. There is
also the question
of what is being
provided through a
A SRA that provides
community facilities or
training places is likely to
conform to human rights
A SRA that makes the provision of health
services, food, water and sanitation dependent
on the community providing something in
return could be in breach of human rights
For further information on the articles in this Community Guide see the following fact sheets available on the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission"s website at
INDIGENOUS HEALTH FACT SHEETS
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
Commissioner Tom Calma discussing a range of
Indigenous issues at a recent community forum
What are the new arrangements in Indigenous affairs?
After the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (or ATSIC) the Australian Government put in place a series of reforms that are known as the "new arrangements for Indigenous affairs". Key elements of these are ICCs, SRAs and RPAs.
What are ICCs? (Indigenous Coordination Centres)
The Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC) was established in Canberra and each capital city to coordinate policy nationally and ICCs have been set up in each of the former ATSIC regions to deliver a whole-of-government approach to programs and service delivery on a regional basis and to collaborate with Indigenous communities at the local level.
What are Shared Responsibility Agreements?
The term "Shared Responsibility Agreement" describes an agreement that is based on the principle of mutual obligation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and groups and Australian governments.
What is mutual obligation?
In practice, this means that governments agree to provide things to a community on the condition that the community agrees to provide something in return.
What are RPAs? (Regional Partnership Agreements)
RPAs will set out how governments and the community will engage at the regional level. Indigenous regional representative structures, when created, will play a key role in the development of RPAs.
What is free, prior and informed consent?
Free, prior and informed consent describes a process that should be followed by all people when they want to do business on Indigenous peoples" land or when they develop policies that impact on Indigenous peoples. The free, prior and informed consent process contains the following elements:
- Free - implies no coercion, intimidation or manipulation;
- Prior - implies that enough time has been allowed for meaningful community consultation and consensus building;
- Informed - implies that all the information necessary to make a decision has been provided and understood.
- Consent - means a community has the right to withhold consent to a proposal if they do not agree to it.
For further information refer to the Engaging the marginalised: partnerships between indigenous peoples, governments and civil societies brochure on the HREOC website at:
Handy Contacts For The Human Rights And Equal Opportunity Commission
Call 1300 369 711 to order hard copies and CD-ROMs of the Social Justice and Native Title Reports
and for additional copies of this Community Guide
The Social Justice Report 2005 is available at www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/sjreport05/
The Native Title Report 2005 is available at www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/ntreport05/
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