The colony has spoken yet again, Aboriginal rights don’t matter.

VALS has advocated for the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to be legislated in Australia for many years. We are deeply frustrated that the Federal Government shut down debate on this important issue in Parliament yesterday.

Twice in one year, Aboriginal rights that are protected under international law have been denied in Australia. Senator Thorpe’s Bill to embed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was voted down by both Labor and Coalition parties yesterday. 

The Australian Government has only been a signatory to UNDRIP since 2009, after embarrassingly abstaining when it was first enacted in 2007. The principles and rights established have not been implemented in Australian legislation or policy. The Indigenous rights protected under UNDRIP are the bare minimum which should be afforded to Aboriginal peoples which include the right to self-determination, free, prior and informed consent, and Indigenous data sovereignty and governance.

The Australian Government’s failure to implement UNDRIP in legislation is directly in contravention of Article 38 of UNDRIP. This section requires states to engage in consultation with Indigenous peoples to take appropriate measures, including legislative reform, to achieve the intent of UNDRIP. 

VALS sees the implementation of UNDRIP at the Federal level as the first necessary step in implementing UNDRIP in Australia, which must be followed by States and Territories amending existing legislation to ensure compatibility with UNDRIP. Recognition of UNDRIP at a Federal level creates a legal protection that allows for mechanisms of accountability and transparency to be developed and enforced domestically. Governments talk a lot about Aboriginal self-determination, but talk is not enough to make it a reality – UNDRIP must be incorporated into legislation.

Only last month, a Parliamentary Inquiry, led by former Senator Pat Dodson, released a report recommending codifying UNDRIP into domestic law. The Government could have honoured his legacy by acting on this recommendation.

For the Government to decide this, four days before the United Nations Human Rights Day gives a strong indication of their true intent. This country has a long way to go to acknowledge the inherent and institutional racism our systems continue to embed and allow.

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

“Why is the Federal Government so scared of discussing human rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? Legislating the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be a no-brainer for any Government committed to Self-Determination and Closing the Gap.” 

“It’s easy to say nice things, but what really counts is the actions that follow.” 

“We welcome the day when our rights are protected and upheld domestically, until then we will continue to advocate for our peoples. Our voice remains strong, no vote can diminish that.” 


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