Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Geneva, Switzerland
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Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Fifth Meeting

Australian Statement for Agenda Item 6

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

July 2012

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was ground breaking for a number of reasons. It was the first time a significant human rights statement had been developed collaboratively by governments and Indigenous peoples and it was both an important symbolic and practical step in addressing the historical injustices faced by Indigenous peoples around the world.

Australia was initially slow to embrace the Declaration in 2007 but has become a firm supporter. We were pleased to join others in celebrating its fifth anniversary in New York recently during the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The historic 2008 Apology by former Prime Minister Rudd to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples – and in particular to members of the Stolen Generations – was a vital step in the process of reconciliation and healing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. But that, of course, was only a start. Since then, the Australian Government and Indigenous Australians have sought to rebuild their relationship – in a spirit of cooperation based on good faith, good will and mutual respect, and in the spirit of the Declaration.

Together, we are putting in place practical measures to achieve concrete changes to address the intergenerational impacts of European settlement on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the unacceptable levels of disadvantage they continue to face in living standards, life expectancy, education, health and employment. These measures are highlighted in our response to the EMRIP questionnaire on the implementation of the Declaration.

The Australian Government’s principal policy to address the disadvantages faced by Indigenous peoples is the Closing the Gap Strategy. This Strategy sets ambitious targets to reduce Indigenous disadvantage within a generation. Consistent with the Declaration’s focus on equality, recognition and participation, it is a practical and empirical strategy that sets targets to hold the Government to account – including in our Parliament - on achieving its aims.

Australia’s commitment to the Declaration has influenced a range of initiatives to achieve greater participation by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in policy development and decision making. We have supported the establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and are committed to working with the National Congress to ensure that Indigenous peoples’ voices are heard and fully inform policies that affect them. We are also supporting initiatives such as the Stolen Generations’ Working Partnership and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation which aim to address practical needs as well as trauma and grief, and to aid healing in Indigenous communities.

We are also actively pursuing Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. Acknowledging our Indigenous heritage in our nation’s founding document will be an important step towards bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Australia’s journey towards reconciliation has been a long one. It is far from over and it is one that we continue to work hard on.

The Declaration asks everybody at the reconciliation table to find new ways of working to translate the Declaration’s aspirations into concrete benefits for all Indigenous peoples, including women and children. The Australian Government is committed to working together to end Indigenous disadvantage and bring about reconciliation among our people. And we will continue to work to promote the human rights and human dignity of all Indigenous peoples domestically and internationally.