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Issue #1796      September 27, 2017

UN savages govt

A United Nations investigator has slammed the Turnbull government for its repeated failure of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and called on the Commonwealth to drastically change its approach. Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, said the federal government’s policies “do not duly respect the rights to self-determination and effective participation; contribute to the failure to deliver on the targets in the areas of health, education and employment; and fuel the escalating and critical incarceration and child removal rates”.

“A comprehensive revision of those policies needs to be a national priority, and the consequences and prevalence of intergenerational trauma and racism must be acknowledged and addressed,” she wrote in her recent report to the UN.

She also called for an end to compulsory income management – at the same time as the federal government is planning to expand its cashless welfare scheme.

Tauli-Corpuz said the government’s failure to respect Indigenous people’s right to self-determination was alarming.

She said the Indigenous Advancement Strategy has had a “devastating impact” on Indigenous organisations and had “dented their trust in the government”. “It runs contrary to the principles of self-determination and participation, and the publicly-expressed commitment of the government to doing things with, rather than to, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said, adding that numerous Indigenous organisations had informed her of reprisals levied against them in the form of their exclusion from consultations on key policies and legislative proposals.

Tauli-Corpuz reported that she was “deeply troubled” by information indicating that federal government funding cuts had specifically targeted organisations undertaking advocacy and legal services.

Children detention

Tauli-Corpuz drew particular attention to the soaring rates of detention of Indigenous children, including kids as young as 10 years old, pointing out that Australia locks up Indigenous children at 24 times the rate of other children.

She said that the routine detention of young Indigenous children was the most distressing aspect of her recent visit to Australia, and that the federal government, not the states and territories, was responsible under international law for this “national detention crisis”.

She called for the federal government to adopt a national action plan to address the crisis by moving away from detention and punishment towards rehabilitation and reintegration.

“The application of criminal responsibility as low as at the age of 10 years across the country is deeply troubling and below international standards,” she said.

“This situation is aggravated by the failure to apply diversion measures and community programs and the placement of children in high-security facilities.

“The government must ensure that community-led early intervention programs invest in families, rather than punish them, in order to prevent children from being in contact with the child protection system.

“It is wholly inappropriate to detain children in punitive, rather than rehabilitative, conditions. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are essentially being punished for being poor and, in most cases, prison will only perpetuate the cycle of violence, intergenerational trauma, poverty and crime.”

Positive aspect

On the happier side, the UN report said it was “very positive” that the governments of Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory were leading initiatives to seek a treaty with Aboriginal peoples.

“The Special Rapporteur was particularly impressed and inspired by the strength of spirit and commitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to develop innovative measures to support their own communities,” she wrote.

“Over the past decade, Indigenous-led peak bodies have been established and have grown in a wide range of areas, and have developed valuable expertise.”

Tauli-Corpuz praised the Redfern Statement – a set of guiding principles calling for a new approach to Indigenous affairs – and called on the federal government to implement it, including providing funding to the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

She also singled out racism, the education system and a failure to recognise intergenerational trauma as issues of concern.

“Racism manifests itself in different ways, ranging from public stereotyped portrayals as violent criminals, welfare profiteers and poor parents, to discrimination in the administration of justice,” the report says.

“Aboriginal doctors and patients informed the Special Rapporteur about their experiences of racism within the medical sector and their reluctance to seek services from mainstream medical providers.

“The mainstream education system contains inadequate components on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and the impact of colonisation.

“There needs to be much greater public awareness of their perspectives on history and the consequences of past policies and legislation, including the long-term damage and rupture of social bonds caused by the forced removal and institutionalisation of their children.”

Koori Mail

Next article – “Change the Rules” – WA Campaign launch in Perth

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