Australia will sign UN charter on indigenous rights: Dodson


Joel Gibson, Indigenous Affairs Reporter, The Sydney Morning Herald

Date of publication: 
12 March 2009

AUSTRALIA could reverse its position on a United Nations charter of indigenous rights as early as May, the Australian of the Year, Professor Mick Dodson, says.

The Howard government had misgivings that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would elevate customary law above Western law and conflict with aspects of government policy. But it is Rudd Government policy to support the declaration and it has been looking for a way to reconcile support with its own approach to indigenous affairs.

The declaration, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007 after more than two decades of drafting, outlines the rights of an estimated 370 million indigenous people around the world.

Only Australia , the US , New Zealand and Canada voted against it.

The shadow attorney-general, Senator George Brandis, has warned that the declaration includes provisions “that go well beyond the rights recognised in Australian domestic law”.

He said it conferred the right to seek compensation for land taken without permission and to veto projects affecting land, without providing recognition for the rights of third parties. [Editorial NOTE: This often repeated and patently false statement does not take into account Article 46, paragraph 2 of the Declaration which explicitly states “In the exercise of the rights enunciated in the present Declaration, human rights and fundamental freedoms of all shall be respected. … (emphasis added)]

The Northern Territory intervention, which the Rudd Government will alter in the second half of this year, breaches about half of the charter’s 46 articles, according to Claire Smith, an intervention critic and academic at Flinders University .

Professor Dodson said an announcement was imminent, in an interview published yesterday. “The Labor Party’s politics has always been to support the declaration, to endorse the declaration. They’re going to do that and it may be as soon as the next meeting of the Permanent Forum which will be at the UN headquarters in New York City in the last two weeks of May.”

But he remained concerned that the Government’s support would be watered down by “too many riders or qualifications or explanatory statements”.

Yesterday the Government would say only that it supported the declaration’s underlying principles and was “consulting with indigenous organisations, State and Territory governments and other key stakeholders on an appropriate public statement to reflect this”.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has agreed to investigate a complaint against the intervention. The case, which claims the intervention is racially discriminatory, is being run by lawyers including George Newhouse on behalf of a group in the NT.