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UN Universal Periodic Review

Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 3 Mar 2011

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (3.38 pm)—by leave—I move: That the Senate take note of the statement. I must admit I was disappointed to see the government’s response to the UN Universal Periodic Review where they did not respond in a comprehensive manner at the time of the review at the committee.

A lot of what was contained in that Universal Periodic Review report, 145 recommendations, was in fact hardly a surprise to the government that these recommendations were made.

I am focusing in particular on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues and note some of the main recommendations were about, firstly, fully restoring the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act in Australia. Again, that is hardly a surprise. It is an issue that the NGO report certainly raised. Other issues included withdrawal of its reservations to the CERD, which is the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and implementation of the UN Special Rapporteur reports on the rights of Indigenous peoples from 2009.

Those issues have been on the table for a long time. Then there were issues around strengthening the efforts to combat family violence, especially against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children; review of all deaths in custody; increased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander access to legal aid, especially for women; issues around compensation for the stolen generation; and reforms to the Native Title Act.

The issue around the stolen generations and reparations was raised a long time ago in the Bringing them home report. I myself have a bill in this very place to address many of those issues, but those issues have been raised for a very long time. And in particular there were the Social Justice Commissioner’s report on native title in 2009 and the issues around implementing the DRIP, which is the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and including those into law. In other words, there were a lot of recommendations that were made. These issues are hardly new.

The government did acknowledge the issues around the significant disadvantage that Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders face in this country. What I find distressing is that that seems to equate with the government in some way justifying reducing the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for example as happened in the Northern Territory emergency response, the NTER, where Aboriginal people’s rights were removed or downgraded through discriminatory practices and the exemption of the measures from the Racial Discrimination Act, and they have not been fully restored despite claims by the government.

I think Australia should have taken a much stronger stance at that time and made some stronger commitments. I look forward very passionately to seeing the government’s response when they do respond in a couple of months time and hope that they do respond in a full and comprehensive manner to those 145 recommendations. I will be looking in particular at the comments on the recommendations, especially those that impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and look at whether we can start addressing this issue of using disadvantage to undermine Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s rights.

I think it is quite obvious, and it is in fact internationally recognised, that to start addressing disadvantage you have to make sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and indigenous people are able to fully exercise their human rights. That is one of the issues that leads to their disempowerment and their alienation and can add to their disadvantage.

Australia will be watched very strongly by the international community on the way it responds to these 145 recommendations. I know there are groups around the country that are carefully looking at the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review and will be, I hope, talking to government about them.

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