The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (Congress) has written to its 172 member organisations and almost 6500 individuals members, asking them to hold major political parties accountable for their policies and pledges regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the 2013 federal election.
An open letter by Co-Chairs Les Malezer and Kirstie Parker (pictured above top left) provides an overview of the policies and pronouncements both before and during the election campaign of the Australian Greens (Greens), Australian Labor Party (ALP), the Liberal Party of Australia and the Nationals (the Coalition).
Congress wrote to the parties in August asking for responses on key principles outlined in our document ‘Rights, Respect and Recognition: Congress’ Expectations of Australia’s Political Leadership’.
The responses from the parties are published on the Congress website.
FROM THE AUSTRALIAN TODAY
THE peak body representing Aborigines has criticised Tony Abbott for his lack of commitment to the organisation and failure to acknowledge the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in an evaluation of the major parties that was sent to its members.
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples questioned the major parties on their commitment to advancing the interests of Aborigines.
It says the ALP supported the UN declaration in April 2009, and in 2010 gave moral and financial support for the establishment of the congress, but “regrettably the ALP has yet to address the declaration to any meaningful extent”.
The congress said it was not aware of the Coalition having made any official announcements on the UN declaration or the rights of first peoples.
“The Coalition has not expressed support for representation and decision-making,” it said.
It noted that the Opposition Leader had instead made commitments to manage indigenous affairs from the portfolio of prime minister and cabinet, and to establish an indigenous advisory council headed by Warren Mundine. Mr Abbott had also pledged to spend time in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as prime minister and this promise extended to his ministers.
They say that the Coalition says it will change the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 to accede to freedom of speech and remove legal remedy to racial vilification.
“No party has yet committed to the proposed reforms of the Constitution that were recommended by the expert panel, particularly to the reform to prevent laws that are racially discriminatory.
“The ALP and the Coalition remain focused upon intervention in the Northern Territory through the Stronger Futures laws despite strong concerns identified by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights over breaches of Australia’s international human rights obligations under the race convention.
“The ALP has reinstated the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 to apply to the Stronger Futures laws but congress considers that this is not a sufficient response to end discriminatory provisions”.
On closing the gap they say the Coalition supports the continuing strategy but “it is unclear whether the Coalition would maintain or extend existing programs”.
They write that the ALP has made some changes to the Native Title Act 1993 during the last two terms of government, but “arguably not in ways that improve the return of lands, territories and resources to ownership and management by the First Peoples”.
“In particular, the ALP has not reversed the onus of proof, as has been widely recommended. The Coalition has made no commitment to increasing ownership of lands, territories and resources but Warren Mundine, who would chair a Coalition Indigenous advisory council, has flagged changes to Aboriginal statutory bodies including land councils, regional councils, homeland councils, and corporations”.
“None of the major parties have provided detailed proposals to advance the land rights aspirations of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples”.
They say the major parties are mostly silent on the cultural interests of the first peoples and offer no major policy developments or investments.
“By providing this overview to you, Congress does not seek to tell you how or whether to vote in the federal election. It is your decision. We hope that the information that we have provided adds to your understanding of the political landscape and gives you ideas as to how to influence the Parliament of Australia to respect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples”.
CONGRESS PRESS RELEASE
5 key questions to political leaders
1.How will you work with Congress to ensure our legitimate role as a national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is respected?
2.What measures will you take to ensure the rights and purposes set out in the
3.How will you support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to achieve self-determination?
4.What support will you provide Congress to fully participate in the development, implementation and monitoring of government laws, policies and programs, including through COAG?
5.What steps will you take to ensure that policies and strategies that affect us have the agreement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
“We are not telling people how to vote or whether to vote in the federal election, and we have not endorsed any political party over another,” said Co-Chair Parker.
“Rather, Congress has provided our members with information to help them ask key questions of their local candidates in the federal election, draw their own conclusions about policies, and cast an informed vote on Saturday.
“Congress’ role is to promote and protect the identity and rights of the First Peoples, and this includes informing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of election promises by the next Australian Government.
“We are pleased the major parties remain committed to achieving equality through ‘Closing the Gap’ strategies,” said Ms Parker.
“We applaud this approach to set targets and to measure performances.
“The parties accept close scrutiny and accountability against housing, education, employment and health goals, and Congress notes that the ALP and the Greens now also accept our proposal to incorporate justice targets in the strategies.
“But achieving equality in social indicators is only one of six priority areas.”
Co-Chair Malezer said the most important objective, from the view of Congress, is the commitment to implement in Australia the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“The Declaration upholds our right to self-determination and embodies the framework for development of Indigenous Peoples through community-based decision-making.
“Self-determination is essential, and our history in Australia proves centralised and unrepresentative government in Canberra cannot succeed, no matter how many advisors exist.
“Congress remains concerned that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are still harmed through racism at the individual and institutional levels.
“Constitutional reform to prohibit racism is recommended by Congress but the parties remain vague on the details for Constitutional reform.
“It is important that Congress members and our supporters are well informed and motivated about the important Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policies of the next Australian government.
“We believe the performances during this election period are not up to the standard we deserve and should expect in this land,” said Mr Malezer.
The five questions are contained in the document: ‘Rights, Respect and Recognition: Congress’ Expectations of Australia’s Political Leadership’ and can be downloaded from nationalcongress.com.au
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