Monday, 30 August 2010

Aboriginal Australians at the United Nations #2 : Loss of Rights - the despair of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory

Please note this post is the second in a series of 4.  Please read them all.


‘concerned Australians’ welcomes the report from the UN Committee  on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The report calls for numerous changes to the way Australia deals with ‘entrenched discrimination’.  One Committee Member, Patrick Thornberry, referred to, “structurally embedded discrimination in the way the Aboriginal intervention was being handled in the Northern Territory.”

The report calls for the full reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) in the Northern Territory in a manner which ensures that the Act will “prevail over all other legislation which may be discriminatory on the grounds set out in the Convention”.

 More specifically, the report states, “The Committee expresses its concern that the package of legislation under the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) continues to discriminate on the basis of race as well as the use of so called “special measures”. To comply with our international obligations considerable amendment will be required to the legislation of June 2010,  Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform and Reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination) Act 2010.

Professor the Hon Alastair Nicholson, a co-author of the report “Loss of Rights” says, “The legislation of June 2010,  restoring the Racial Discrimination Act reeks of hypocrisy in that at the same time as it does so it gives legislative force to aspects of the Northern Territory Emergency Response under the guise of them being ‘special measures’. The hypocrisy and double dealing involved is particularly apparent in relation to the income protection measures, which are now being ostensibly extended to the white population in a desperate attempt to avoid them being classed as discriminatory. Meanwhile the Government has acted in a questionable fashion to pressure Aboriginal communities to grant leases to it and thereby divest themselves of their lands. Fortunately the Committee has recognised what has been going on and has rightly criticised successive Australian Governments over this behaviour”

Elder, Rev. Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM from Galiwin’ku says,   “The Australian Government has supported the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and must remove NTER measures  from the legislation.”

The Committee recommends amendment to the Australian Constitution to include the recognition of Aboriginal  and Torres Strait Islanders as First Nation Peoples, as well as giving  consideration to the negotiation of a treaty agreement to build a constructive and sustained relationship with Indigenous people.
The report continues, “The Committee regrets the discriminatory impact this intervention has had on affected communities including restrictions on Aboriginal rights to land, property, social security, adequate standards of living, cultural development, work and remedies.”

Michele Harris OAM , spokesperson for ‘concerned Australians’  says, “the last two governments have invested huge sums of money aimed at taking control from Aboriginal people in the Territory over every aspect of life– compulsory control over Aboriginal land and leases, control over townships and community services, control over work, control over money, control over where  money is spent, control over the language in which children are taught,  and the list goes on.”

“ Many in Australia are unaware of the extreme changes that have been inflicted on Aboriginal people in the Territory.  The recent trend in Australia has been for communication through statistics. We no longer engage with the feelings of grief and despair as is being experienced by our Aboriginal brothers and sisters in the Northern Territory.”

“Most of us, who do not live in the Territory, have no understanding of the pain that is being inflicted by the current policies. This is poignantly stated by elder Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM, “ It is disgusting to think that a government can inflict so much pain and so much hurt on the faces of colour and for reasons that we do not even know of.”

After the Apology most Australians expected an end to the discriminatory practices of Government. Within the next short while this should be a priority of whichever political group comes to power. Australians want change  - they are disgraced by the racist tag by which our nation is becoming known. We must act on the recommendations  contained in this report – Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of  Racial Discrimination.                                              

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