Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

United Nations

United Nations

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (4.46 pm)-I too wish to partake in what I find to be a frustrating and disappointing debate. In terms of where we are at, I think it is clear that rarely does a perfect document come out of any organisation-in particular, the UN. The document in front of us, which is now in front of the world community, has been evolving over a long time. Some people say there has been 20 years of discussion since the original International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples was declared. Most particularly, since the mid-nineties there has been a structured approach to the UN principles to look at how there can be an international commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This declaration is a huge commitment and offers real hope to so many people. It is long and complex and uses many verbs-in fact, the preambles of all the UN documents that I have been acquainted with are often longer than the actual articles that people are agreeing to-but, in terms of what it offers to the world, it is invaluable. In fact, when we were talking with indigenous people this year on the International Day of the World's Indigenous People, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights talked about the hope this document could have for indigenous people across the world. She invited states and the international community as a whole to give particular attention to targeting indigenous people in programs to reduce poverty and also to make sure that people have their voice. This is not an easy document to consume, but what we forget is that it is an aspirational document-a declaration; it does not actually bind any country of the world to take particular action. What it does is bind countries to look within their own programs of law to respect and acknowledge the rights of indigenous people. When Senator Bartlett and Senator Evans talked to Tom Calma from HREOC in October last year, Mr Calma was asked, in his capacity as a commissioner, what the signing of this document would mean. In his evidence, Mr Calma said:
it is a declaration. As such, it is a non-binding document It will then be up to each of the states-
that is, the governments of countries-to take up what they can do in this process. He went on to say:
But, from an indigenous person's perspective, it will be the benchmark that we will be looking to encourage governments to try and follow. What needs to be recognised is that the declaration is really a compilation of all the various references to indigenous peoples in other conventions and covenants, so there is not really anything new-
in this document. What it has done, as an integral part of two decades of consideration of issues around indigenous people, is put together a declaration that the United Nations, as a compilation of member nations, can stand together and say, 'We accept this declaration.' It does not mean that every state that signs up to the declaration will have to implement all the articles. This declaration will not mean that there will be a binding rule on self-determination and the issues that we have heard Senator Payne and Senator Trood identify-and quite rightly so, because these things belong under individual country laws-but what it will do is put on the international stage an awareness of, and focus on, the role of indigenous people within those frameworks. Australia should be leading in this area-in fact, we have led in the past. That is why I say again that there is a degree of disappointment in our discussion at this time.
There has been a recommendation from the Human Rights Committee that this declaration be taken up, so already a hope has been established amongst a number of indigenous people who have attended and contributed to meetings of the Human Rights Forum. Many Indigenous Australians have gone to the UN, at various places, to talk about why such a declaration is important to them in their daily lives and about the issues of disadvantage they face on an almost daily basis. We have heard many times in this place about the horrific statistics on the suffering of Australian Indigenous people in health, in education and in life. Those same issues are being suffered-and the statistics are similar-by the various indigenous people across the world. The UN itself has put out statistics-and this is an estimate-that more than 370 million individuals, living in more than 70 countries, could be identified as indigenous people in 2007. Those numbers are confronting, but one of the most confronting things about them is that, when you go around and look at the living conditions, life expectancy and day-to-day issues faced by indigenous people in their own countries, they suffer disadvantage in so many cases. The declaration that is going before the UN assembly acknowledges indigenous disadvantage and will establish the right of people to have expectations of education, health, land ownership and a genuine life within their own community. They are the kinds of hopes and expectations that all of us have. Now we are hoping that as a part of the second International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples the UN assembly will acknowledge, through the various articles of this particular declaration, that all peoples who are indigenous to their lands will be able to work together to achieve these within their own processes.
We are celebrating in so many ways in our country this year the 40th year of the rights of Indigenous people to vote and to be citizens in our country. Earlier this year, a friend of mine, Jackie Huggins, in speaking at one of the very many celebrations around those issues, talked about the processes that were established in her family when they were fighting for reconciliation 40 years ago. She said:
To me, like my mother ... reconciliation has always encompassed three things: recognition, justice and healing.
They are the three components that are encompassed in the international Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We can look together and see that across the world people are saying that Indigenous peoples have the right to recognition, the right to justice and the right to healing. That is what this declaration is about. We can achieve it and we can work within our own laws to give hope to our own people and people across the world.