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National statements

Statement to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Thematic issues

  • Human Rights
  • Justice
  • Women


Fifth Anniversary of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Statement by H.E. Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Haudenosaunee people – the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As we all know, the Declaration is a landmark document in its recognition of the rich heritage of Indigenous peoples and their entitlement to the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. And I want to pay tribute to those – including many in this room – whose dedication, work and commitment over decades culminated in its adoption in 2007.

The Declaration was ground breaking – in many ways, transformative – because it was the first time a significant human rights statement had been developed collaboratively by governments and Indigenous peoples. It was both an important symbolic and practical step in addressing the historical injustices faced by Indigenous peoples around the world.

Australia was initially too slow to embrace the Declaration in 2007 but has become a proud supporter. The Declaration and the seven human rights conventions to which Australia is signatory, are reflected in our policy approach.

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 – which we had so wronged in our history – in a spirit of cooperation based on good faith, goodwill and mutual respect, consistent with the principles of the Declaration .

Together, we are putting in place practical measures to achieve concrete changes to redress the intergenerational impacts of colonisation 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.

The Australian Government's principal policy to address these disadvantages is the Closing the Gap strategy. This Strategy sets ambitious targets to reduce Indigenous disadvantage within a generation. Consistent with the rights-based approach of the Declaration, 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 Islanders 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 trauma and grief, and 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 culturally diverse past and present is at the heart of our national identity. We are one of the world's most multicultural societies. And we embrace that multiculturalism. Our multicultural policy, The People of Australia, launched in February 2011, reaffirms the importance of a culturally diverse and socially cohesive nation. The Australian Human Rights Commission is leading work on a comprehensive National Anti-Racism Strategy, which is expected to be launched in July this year with implementation rolled out over three years.

We have been a strong supporter of convening a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014. And I would like to thank the Plurinational State of Bolivia for originally sponsoring this necessary initiative.

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. The Declaration codifies the human rights that must be afforded to all Indigenous peoples, and this is indispensable to reconciliation.

In Australia, that reconciliation has begun – with our National Apology
– through recognition of our past. But, essential as that was, the real
challenge now is to change the present and thereby own a better future. We are
determined to do that.

Last Updated: 5 June 2015
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