Statement by Samah Hadid, Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations Third Committee, delivered 4 October 2010.
As the Australian youth delegate to the United Nations, I have dedicated my voice to the plight of the most marginalised young Australians and the world’s most vulnerable young people.
My five month national listening tour across 35,000 kilometres of every Australian state and territory reaching 10,000 young Australians was conducted on the Indigenous lands of Australia and I pay my respects to the traditional owners of those lands.
My tour began with the Make Poverty History Road Trip which reflected the best of youth-driven action in Australia. This week long road trip mobilised thousands of young people from every Australian state and territory. It demanded that our elected representatives provide more and better official development assistance, and re commit to the MDGs. The Make Poverty History road trip sounded the call that eradicating extreme poverty can define our generation’s legacy. As a member of the 1.8 billion young people around the world, our generation has stepped forward and said that these inequalities are not acceptable.
The MDG Summit has concluded with member states re -committing their political will. Now this political will must be realised. As nations, you have spoken; it is now time to honour your commitments not with words but with more action.
Developed countries must also set an example of development within their own backyards by prioritising empowerment of their Indigenous peoples.
Indigenous Australian children are 2 to 3 times more likely to die in the first 12 months of life and have higher risk of suffering from infectious diseases than non-Indigenous children. With this in mind, the realisation of the MDGs must also provide meaningful change for Indigenous children in developing and developed countries alike.
I cannot forget the impassioned words of an Indigenous girl held in a juvenile detention centre in New South Wales in Australia, who expressed to me “My entire childhood was spent feeling lost , feeling disconnected from school, family, my culture and myself. I want and dream more for my life, than this inescapable path set out for me and my people.”
This is one of the voices of the thousands of young Indigenous Australians who are tragically over-represented in our juvenile justice system. Indeed, they are 29 times more likely to be placed in juvenile detention than non-Indigenous youth.
Upon reflecting on the condition of young Indigenous Australians during my tour, I am both troubled and inspired.
Troubled by the disadvantage faced by Indigenous youth in the areas of education, health, culture, poverty and child mortality.
But Inspired by the leadership and spirit embodied in youth-driven initiatives in rural, regional and urban Indigenous communities. The HALO Development Leadership Agency in Western Australia, for example, seeks to enable young Indigenous Australians to discover who they are, design their own futures and make a difference in their communities. Efforts like these need to be matched with more national government investment that is undertaken in partnership with Indigenous youth and their communities.
The Australian Government has endorsed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It has committed its resources to closing life expectancy and other gaps between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians. However, we know that young Indigenous people continue to suffer inequality in almost every dimension of their daily lives. In light of this the Australian Government is steadfastly committed to enhanced monitoring and promotion of the rights of Indigenous youth at the national and international levels.
Equality must be a reality for every Australian. Indigenous youth are no exception and their needs cannot be forgotten.
I remember the sense of national pride and solidarity I felt while sitting in the Australian Parliament listening to the national apology to the stolen generations in 2008. Wherever I travelled, young Australians were also united in their pride of this Government action. They were also united in the belief that closing the gaps of Indigenous disadvantage can be achieved in our generation’s lifetime. To fail in this objective would be blight on our nation’s soul.
And to succeed in righting the wrongs of the past would be a triumph for justice and humanity.
Australia has committed itself to promoting and protecting human rights on the national and international stage. It recognises its shortcomings and is also open to greater accountability from civil society and its citizens.
Young Australians play a strong role in civil society and are actively involved in promoting human rights nationally and internationally. Youth driven and led organisations seek to uphold the rights of the most vulnerable groups. RISE Refugee, for example, is an organisation that provides support services for young refugees and asylum seekers who settle in Australia. It was founded by a Sri Lankan refugee who knows firsthand the pain that young refugees and asylum seekers face fleeing from conflict, and the trauma and uncertainty that can come with prolonged years in immigration detention in Australia. RISE Refugee supports young refugees who experience racism and marginalisation within some sectors of the Australian community.
As a member of the Arab Muslim minority in Australia, I know too well the feeling of social exclusion that comes with instances of racism and intolerance both at home and abroad. I also know the capacity for Australia to value its diversity and multiculturalism.
Young Australians seek pride in our country’s cultural diversity, found in its migrant and Indigenous cultures. Young Australians also seek hope for an Australia that draws on its compassion, tolerance and its ability to welcome migrants and refugees.
Australia is a nation of the world and continues to contain the world within our nation.
Keeping with the theme for this year’s United Nations Year of Youth – dialogue and mutual understanding – young Australians have spoken out against discrimination everywhere, be it against ethnic, religious and sexual minorities or Indigenous young people.
Let their voices be a clarion call for the end of bigotry and intolerance anywhere and everywhere in our world.
I would not be here were it not for the support of my community and my Government. I’ve had what too many young people in our world do not: opportunities to grow up feeling connected to my community; in control of my own future; and hopeful with the overreaching dreams that are the birthright of every child.
But there are children and young people in the world who live without these opportunities and destinies. And these barriers will not be rectified without the meaningful participation and voice of young people at an international level. The achievement of all member states embracing the youth delegate programme at the United Nations would be a start.
Today, we look back and recognise the corrosive remnants of our gravest failings. World war. Slavery. Colonialism. When our children look back, will they see further faults? Or will they see the best of humanity, and recall a time when a global community met the challenges of our world and reclaimed the hopeful promise that sixty-five years ago dared imagine these United Nations?
That history is ours to create.