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United we stand – support for United Nations Indigenous Rights Declaration a watershed moment for Australia

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This morning’s formal support from the Australian Government for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is likely to go down in history as a watershed moment in Australia’s relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said April 3.

Commissioner Calma said the statement being made in Canberra this morning by the federal government in support of the Declaration substantially adds to the foundations for a new partnership between the federal government, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider community.

“I congratulate the Australian Government for the giant step it is taking today in embracing the fundamental guiding principles of mutual respect and partnership outlined in the Declaration,” Commissioner Calma said.

“In making this formal statement of support, the federal government is committing to a framework which fully respects Indigenous peoples’ rights and creates the opportunity for all Australians to be truly equal.

“The challenge for government now, is to build understanding of the Declaration among government officials, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the general community, so we can give meaning and content to its provisions.”

Commissioner Calma said the strength of the Declaration was that it provided a set of internationally endorsed objective standards to guide the relationship with Indigenous peoples, and to promote actions that respected and protected Indigenous cultures.

“It should be clear that on any measure, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples remain marginalised in Australia and face entrenched poverty and ongoing discrimination on a daily basis.

“The statement of support for the Declaration fills me with hope for Indigenous peoples the world over,” he said.

“The Declaration could be put to immediate use in Australia by providing guidance and articulating minimum standards to help the government in addressing some of the discriminatory elements remaining in the Northern Territory intervention,” Mr Calma said.

While emphasising the significance of today’s formal statement of support for the Declaration, Commissioner Calma said it was also important to acknowledge that the statement of support followed other significant steps the government had taken towards resetting its relationship with Indigenous Australians including: making the National Apology; providing substantial funding boosts to close the life expectancy gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and committing to the establishment of a new national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“While substantial challenges remain for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia, support for the Declaration can unleash Australia’s potential to be a world leader on how it engages with its Indigenous peoples,” he said.

“Australia’s support for the Declaration will help in the global fight against racism and discrimination and firmly re-establishes Australia’s leadership role in the international human rights system.”