Editor’s Note: This same day that we publish Les Malezer’s email is ‘Close the Gap’ day.
It is worth reflecting on the society we live in, and how after all these years we still have a the life expectancy gap of 10 to 17 years between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-indigenous Australians.
Although it is now a few months old, the statement to the UN (below), on behalf of Australia, shows the hypocrisy by the government regarding human rights of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
On one hand the Rudd Government is extending the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in Australia while at the very same time telling the UN that ‘we continue to be mindful of past injustices’, that there is ‘the beginning of a new relationship between indigenous
and non-indigenous Australians’ and ‘the Australian Government has renewed its commitment to meeting Australia’s international human rights obligations’.
Australia also claims to be closely examining the report of the National Human Rights Consultation when we know there is no such action being taken and that the report is shelved.
EVIDENCE OF HUMAN RGHTS?
The evidence provided by Australia that it is concerned about the human rights of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is not evidence of self-determination and empowerment. It is not evidence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people speaking for themselves. It is not evidence of the development of the people and their communities. It is not evidence of the cultural survival through languages, customary law, self-governing institutions. The government makes the claim of a ‘$5.6 billion’ investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander development. This dollar figure is meant to impress the ignorant and silence the dissenters. It is meant to trump the claims of the Howard government of $4 billion expenditure, and stands as the benchmark to be overtaken by the next government.
Nobody – absolutely NOBODY – knows what this figure represents or where to find any details.
The figure actually represents how much unemployment benefits are paid to the huge numbers of unemployed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the workforce. It represents the estimate of how much mainstream health expenditure is proportionally for our people, and it represents how much mainstream education expenditure is supposedly available. It is a lie, an absolute out and out lie.
It has been the standard for government reporting for the past fifteen years, implying that the ‘burden’ of pursuing Aboriginal and Islander people equality in Australia is evidence of goodwill, and that should be enough effort in ensuring their human rights.
However, it does not represent an investment at all when you realise other figures paint a different picture, eg
– the total government ‘investment’ in the Australian population in the last budget was $340 billion, and the corresponding ‘investment’ in the 2% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was only 1.6% – (and not evidence supporting the supposed delivery of equal services and infrastructure in remote communities). (see graph at bottom)
– the export of raw products from Australia – minerals and agricultural products from the lands stolen from the Aboriginal people – in the last financial year alone was over $215 billion.
The dollar figure is even more pathetic when you take into account:
– State and Territory governments direct money away from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for mainstream expenditure.
– Allocated funds are largely unspent for the year, and are then re- announced in the next budget.
– Any funds that make it into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs are skimmed by high administration and delivery costs, with very few dollars ‘hitting the ground, in communities’.
– A large proportion of the expenditure in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs is used by government to closely monitor and manage communities, organisations and individuals in a way to prevent decision-making, development and self-determination.
UN LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY ON HUMAN RIGHTS
This statement by the Australian government reinforces the concerns of FAIRA that the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the sub-committee responsible for human rights and humanitarian issues, is an off-track, unaccountable body which ultimately sidelines the work of the Human Rights Council and leaves human rights in the politicised community of the UN diplomats based in New York. Note, for instance, that Australia makes no reference at all to the work and the report of the Human Rights Council.
For the uninitiated, the Human Rights Council is the UN body established in the new millennium (and made operational in 2006) to elevate the importance of human rights in the work of the United Nations. During the early stages a challenge was made to the existence of the Third Committee of UNGA once the Human Rights Council was created. It was argued by UNGA that the Human Rights Council, as the ‘third pillar’ of the UN, should stand equal to the Economic and Social Council and the Security Council, in ensuring ‘security, development and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing’. The Human Rights Council along with the High Commissioner for Human Rights are based in Geneva and this is where the non-State organisations for human rights are committed and focussed.
At the Third Committee, in New York, the doors effectively remain closed to Civil Society and non-State bodies. While observers are allowed to witness the sessions, only international organisations and New York-based societies are able to attend. The Third Committee clearly remains an ‘inner sanctum’ for governments to filter human rights matters without accountability.
The statement by the Australian Ambassador should have been pre-empted in a more accountable forum such as the Human Rights Council to ensure that the claims were legitimate and that Australians were made aware of the international face of the racist Rudd government.
SOME POSITIVE EFFORTS
As an endnote, I should add that I have strong praise for the Minister >or Foreign Affairs and his department who are trying to demonstrate a commitment to the positive role of the United Nations and to the human rights obligations of Australia. I praise that the government has, in this statement, announced it has supported the United Nations trust fund to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave rade and is an early contributor to that fund.
Unfortunately the murky and sinister side of government towards the Indigenous Peoples lies embedded in the administration of FaHCSIA, including the Minister, which exists to ‘bottleneck’ all policy addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives.
INCOMPETENT AND EVIL GOVERNMENT
Regrettably, Australia’s policy and administration on indigenous affairs is now a political act of ‘State-based’ segregation, where the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are different to non-Indigenous Australians and the lives of our people are micro- managed by the incompetent formula of bureaucrats aligned to a over- zealous, fanatical Minister, rather than the people they are supposed to serve.
Australia is described as a parliamentary democracy. It is no such thing.
It is a modern form of colonial government where the rights of the FIrst Peoples have been downtrodden and sidelined to make way for aliens, and where those aliens have formed a system of government for themselves while stealing and keeping the lands and resources of the First Peoples. No provision has been made in the alien government for fair political representation of the First Peoples, for the inherent rights of the First Peoples to be respected, for restitution of the stolen properties including lands, waters and resources, or for compensation of injustices including racism.
The State of Australia cannot be a political democracy until those deficiencies are addressed, because a democracy is in definition a political state where all peoples are equal, peoples determine their own political status, all peoples freely choose their representatives and peoples can exercise the rights to economic, social and cultural development.
Even the proposed national indigenous representative body, ‘the First Nations Congress’, is tailored to suit the government. It is structured not to be something positive but to be something the government can accept. We know what ‘not another ATSIC’ means. It means the thirty years of development and progress we had made since 1973, is to be buried and not resurrected. A new path must be forged by this supposed ‘representative’ body based upon ‘white’ values, forcing:- a body with no powers except to advise government- an ethics committee to screen candidates (- would parliamentarians pass such screening?),- a prescriptive gender allocation, not as a special measure but as a permanent pre-requisite for selection,- an elite form of executive governance involving only a handful of people,- no direct path for community level people to influence or direct executives,- no provision for community reporting, transparency, accountability, monitoring or appeal, and- an institution no less vulnerable than ATSIC to public ridicule and media attacks if it pursues self determination.
The government has ensured that this ‘representative’ body has no powers other than to advise government, and provided just enough budget to keep it busy in the play pen rather than advance Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination.
Regrettably, Australia still cannot present an honest face internationally over the continued colonisation and oppression of the Indigenous Peoples.
Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly28 October 2009H.E Gary Quinlan Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia National Statement on Human Rights Today, I reaffirm the Australian Government’s commitment to human rights.
Since coming to office two years ago, the new Australian Government has turned this commitment into genuine progress in the promotion, protection and realisation of human rights at home – and abroad.
Necessarily, the Government began with a focus on the needs of the most marginalised in Australian society.
The Prime Minister’s apology, on behalf of our nation, to Indigenous Australians for past mistreatment, signalled the beginning of a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
This new beginning was backed by a $5.6 billion investment to address Indigenous disadvantage.And in April this year, the Australian Government announced its support for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
More broadly, the Government announced on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the most extensive community consultation on human rights in Australia’s history – the National Human Rights Consultation. The Consultation held more than 65 community roundtables and public hearings in more than 50 urban, regional and remote locations across the country.
It received more than 35,000 submissions. The Consultation generated a considerable discussion of human rights across Australia.
The Consultation has provided the Government with a valuable document. The resulting report identifies what Australia does well, where we can do better, and assesses options for greater protection of human rights in Australia. The Government is now closely examining this report.
This was a key moment in Australia’s history in moving our domestic debate on human rights forward and we welcome the enthusiasm expressed by so many Australian men and women towards a better realisation of human rights for all.In parallel with these domestic efforts, the Australian Government has renewed its commitment to meeting Australia’s international human rights obligations.
And it has taken steps to assume further international obligations under relevant treaties.
Australia has long played a part in the international protection of human rights. We draw continuing inspiration from the work of our former Foreign Minister and third President of the General Assembly, Dr Evatt, whose influence is reflected in Article 55 of the United Nations Charter.
This article – which became known at the San Francisco conference as the ‘Australian pledge’ – commits the UN to promote ‘higher standards of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development’.
Evatt’s vision remains as important today as it was in 1945.Faced with global food, debt and financial crises, it is critical that the international community acknowledge the importance of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights.
The international community should – as Australia does – recognise that the processes of development must be equitable and accessible to all, including to the most vulnerable. Individuals and communities must have the right to participate in the development processes that affect them.
Australia looks forward to using our seat on the Economic and Social Council to advance the realisation of these fundamental rights – and widespread adherence to the treaties that support their implementation.
Realisation of gender equity is fundamental to the achievement of economic development. Australia welcomes strengthened institutional arrangements to support gender equity and the empowerment of women. We support efforts to establish a composite UN agency for women. We look forward to the swift appointment of a strong and competent Under- Secretary-General to build a dynamic entity able to fulfil its mandate. Gender architecture reform will better enable member states to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment nationally, as well as to fulfil international commitments to women.
The time has come for all countries to address discrimination against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The Australian Government has introduced reforms to enable same-sex couples and their children to have the same entitlements as opposite sex de facto couples under our national law.
One enduring global human rights concern is the death penalty. Australia strongly opposes the death penalty and we reiterate our support for a moratorium on executions. We call on countries retaining the death penalty to follow the example set recently by the Republic of Togo in abolishing the death penalty.
We want to register our opposition to corporal punishment when used as a criminal sanction by Governments. Floggings, amputations and such methods of criminal punishment have no place in any judicial system in the 21st century.
Mr Chairman The protection of human rights is a paramount obligation of each and every State.
Many States have recently taken significant steps to improve human rights. We welcome Laos’ and Burkina Faso’s recent ratification of the Disabilities Convention and Laos’ ratification of the ICCPR. Brazil acceded to both Optional Protocols to the ICCPR this year.
We commend the constructive way in which small nations – such as Vanuatu, Tonga and Tuvalu – have approached their Universal Periodic Review, notwithstanding the challenges facing small island states without representation in Geneva.
Australia welcomes the launch of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, the first regional human rights body in the Asia-Pacific. We look to the Commission to fulfil the expectations of the people of the region.
Australia focuses on current challenges, but we continue to be mindful of past injustices. As we recognised through our apology to Indigenous Australians, we cannot move forward until we examine the past. In this vein, we welcomed the launch earlier this year of the United Nations trust fund for a memorial to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade and were honoured to become an early contributor.
Unfortunately, some countries have failed to live up to their obligations to their people.
The situation in Fiji has worsened since April when the military regime abrogated the Constitution, imposed draconian Public Emergency Regulations, dismissed the judiciary and delayed elections until 2014. We call on the regime in Fiji to withdraw immediately these regulations, to make good on its commitment to genuine dialogue, and to move quickly to free and fair elections.
We share longstanding concerns about Iran’s fulfilment of its human rights obligations. Iranians should have the right to peaceful protest and free expression of their political views. We deplore the violence that followed the June presidential elections. We are concerned by the continued detention of so-called opponents of the regime, executions of juvenile offenders and discrimination against minorities such as the Baha’is. Australia urges Iran to ensure transparency in its judicial system, and to investigate fully reports of torture, rape and death in detention.
We have consistently called for democratic reform and reconciliation in Myanmar, including the release of all political prisoners [Lex Wotton (sic)].
While condemning the conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi on spurious charges in August, we welcome the recent contact between her and the Myanmar Government, and we urge genuine dialogue. Australia strongly supports the engagement of the UN Secretary-General on Myanmar, and we urge Myanmar to respond constructively to his proposals.
Australia, along with the international community, continues to monitor closely the Sri Lankan Government’s progress on the difficult challenge of its internally displaced people, including on their resettlement, as well as how it institutes political reform and reconciliation. Success in these areas is the key to creating a peaceful, stable and prosperous future for Sri Lanka.
We have long held concerns about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. We were concerned to read reports today of the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Torture being cancelled as he was en route to Zimbabwe. We emphasise the importance of country visits to the proper performance of duties by the special procedures and urge Zimbabwe to facilitate access on this occasion.
Mr ChairmanThe strength of the Australian Government’s engagement on human rights reflects our conviction that national implementation of human rights standards is paramount. And vital global human rights institutions and initiatives should guide and assist States in this process.
For this reason the international community must use the forthcoming review of the Human Rights Council to assess the effectiveness of the international human rights system.
Australia has been encouraged by aspects of the Council’s work, particularly the Universal Periodic Review and the valuable work of the Special Procedure mandate holders. We value the independence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. And we believe the Human Rights Council can do more to respond to urgent human rights challenges.
In this endeavour, and in the promotion, protection and realisation of human rights more broadly, Australia will remain an active and constructive partner.