A United Nations inspector has found that Australia's bid to "close the gap" between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia overtly discriminates against aboriginal peoples and says a review of all legislation and policies that affect Aboriginal peoples is desperately needed.
Following an 11-day Australian visit, UN special rapporteur on indigenous rights James Anaya this week released his statement on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people.
He found that while the Australian Government should be commended for taking significant steps to improve the human rights and socio-economic conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the country - especially its apology to the victims of the stolen generation - new initiatives and significant reforms to existing programs are still desperately needed.
Anaya said there were serious disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous parts of society, including life expectancy, basic health, education, unemployment, incarceration and access to basic services.
But Anaya noted that aspects of the Government initiatives to remove such disparities have raised concerns - especially the Northern Territory Emergency Response which involves an income management regime imposition of compulsory leases, and community-wide bans on alcohol consumption and pornography. "These measures overtly discriminate against aboriginal peoples, infringe their right of self-determination and stigmatise already stigmatised communities," he said.
In reference specifically to the NT Emergency Response, Anaya said in the form it is currently carried out it is not compatible with Australia's obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights treaties.
But he said he was satisfied with the current measures to reform the NT Emergency Response and the Government-initiated consultations currently under way with Indigenous groups in the NT.
"I hope that amendments to the Emergency Response will diminish or remove its discriminatory aspects and adequately take into account the rights of Aboriginal peoples to self determination and culture integrity, in order to bring this Government initiative in line with Australia's international obligations," he said. "Furthermore, I urge the Government to act swiftly to reinstate the protections of the Racial Discrimination Act in regard to the Indigenous peoples of the Northern Territory."
Anaya also reiterated the importance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for framing and evaluating legislation, policies, and actions affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. "I recommend that the Government undertake a comprehensive review of all its legislation, policies, and programs that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in light of the declaration," he said.
Anaya added that Australia needed to move to adopt genuine reconciliation measures, such as the proposed recognition of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples through a charter of rights included in the Constitution. "It is important to note that securing the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands is of central importance to indigenous peoples' socio-economic development, self-determination, and cultural integrity," he said.
Anaya met with government authorities and Indigenous community representatives and organisations to make his findings, also visiting a number of Indigenous communities in remote and urban areas.