The economic downturn presents a challenge to the progress of Indigenous affairs, according to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma.
Calma made the comments at the launch of the 2008 Native Title Report which was held in Sydney yesterday. While he praised the initial work of the Rudd Government in the area, saying there was a "spirit of optimism", he warned that in the current climate it could be short-lived.
"It's not boom time anymore and it would be naïve to think that it won't be more difficult to secure funding and government support for our Indigenous issues when we are competing with a growing unemployment queue in this country," he said.
Calma also warned that climate change would have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous people. "As coastal and island communities confront rising sea levels, and inland areas become hotter and drier, Indigenous people are at risk of further economic marginalisation, as well as potential dislocation from and exploitation of their traditional lands, water and natural resources," he said.
"The cruel irony is that Indigenous people have the smallest ecological footprint but are being asked to carry the heaviest burden of climate change."
He predicted that the affects of climate change could impact on every aspect of life for Torres Straight Islanders, including the availability of fresh water, the destruction of infrastructure and the increased risk of disease brought about by flooding.
In tackling the issues of the economic downturn and climate change and their impact on Indigenous affairs, Calma emphasised that there needed to be strong partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, given that partnership was key to the success of the Close the Gap Campaign on Indigenous health equality.
"If Indigenous people are going to be hard hit by climate change it is only right that they have a seat at the table when it comes to working out climate change policy and planning," he said. "We can only be stronger as a nation if we work together to create new partnerships and a new agenda for Indigenous Australia."
The 2008 Native Title Report examines a range of topics, including the progress was been made during 2008 with respect to Indigenous affairs, key court cases and the potential affects of climate change on Indigenous Australians. See www.humanrights.gov.au.