UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
22 October 2012
The Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Statement by Ms Tanisha Hewanpola, First Secretary
Australian Mission to the United Nations
Thank you Mr Chair
Australia accords the highest priority to Indigenous issues and is encouraged that these are being given due recognition and attention by the United Nations and Member States. However, while substantial progress has been made to promote and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples, we, like others, recognise that much more needs to be done.
Australia is a proud supporter of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In line with the Declaration and the theme of the Second International Decade’s ‘Partnership for action and dignity’, we continue to develop Indigenous policy in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect.
The principles of the Declaration – particularly those relating to participation, economic and social development and rights – are embodied in Australia’s Closing the Gap strategy, our overall approach to addressing Indigenous disadvantage.
The rights of Indigenous peoples and their development are interdependent, and we share the Secretary-General’s view that the inclusion of Indigenous peoples’ rights in the post-2015 development agenda is critical in supporting the Declaration and improving the lives of Indigenous peoples globally.
It is unacceptable that Indigenous populations around the world continue to face ongoing disadvantage. To address this domestically, the Australian Government has made an unprecedented investment of $5.2 billion in funding for employment, education, health services, community development and community safety, to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians, and in particular to provide a better future for Indigenous children.
Australia also recognises the importance of forging relationships of mutual respect. We are committed to strengthening the partnership between Indigenous peoples and the State which underpins our efforts to close the gap. To further this commitment, the Australian Government has provided $29.2 million over five years for the establishment and operation of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples to enable Indigenous peoples’ voices to be heard in the development of policy on strategic national issues which affect the lives of Indigenous Australians.
In recognition of the importance of developing leadership skills amongst Indigenous Australians and their communities, we have also committed $10 million annually to support individual leadership opportunities and programs. This is one important way in which the Australian Government is supporting Indigenous Australians to achieve outcomes in the areas of participation, education, employment, land rights, knowledge and governance.
As the Secretary-General’s report acknowledges, Constitutional recognition of Indigenous peoples is an important step in guaranteeing the inclusion and promotion of the rights of Indigenous peoples. Constitutional recognition has the ability to inspire and empower Indigenous Australians, and we are actively pursuing options to secure the recognition of Indigenous Australians in our Constitution. As an interim step towards achieving constitutional change, the Australian Government has proposed an Act of Recognition that will acknowledge the unique and special place of Australia’s first peoples.
Australia looks forward to further progress to promote and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples at the international level during the upcoming World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014. Australia is a proud supporter of the World Conference, and would like to take this opportunity to once again thank the Plurinational State of Bolivia for its initiative in pursuing this proposal. The World Conference will not only focus international attention on the rights of Indigenous peoples around the world, but will also provide a unique opportunity for Member States, civil society and Indigenous peoples to share experiences and challenges and work together to develop best practice solutions. We welcome, in this regard, the decision of the President of the General Assembly to appoint John Henriksen as a representative of Indigenous peoples, to co-facilitate the recent discussions on modalities for the Conference.
Full Indigenous and civil society participation is critical to the success of the Conference, and we strongly encourage all Member States to support Indigenous representatives and civil society to participate. As the reports of the Secretary-General and Special Rapporteur highlight, ensuring full and effective consultation with, and participation of, Indigenous peoples in matters that concern them should be a priority of the highest order for all Member States and UN entities.