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Top-down measures don’t work

In the 1980s I led a delegation from the Federation of Land Councils to the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, chaired by Erica-Irene Daes. The working group’s task was to establish the foundations for an international human rights instrument which would set a global standard for the protection of Indigenous rights, writes Senator Patrick Dodson at The Guardian.

In 2007, after more than 20 years of international consultations and discussion with Indigenous nations, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People was adopted by the UN general assembly.

In recognising the “urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples”, the declaration was brought into existence to enshrine rights that “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and wellbeing of the Indigenous peoples of the world.”

While non-binding, the declaration benchmarks the standards of global respect and efforts by nation states to help reduce levels of disadvantage and discrimination experienced by many of the world’s 370 million Indigenous people.

The two elements I see as most pertinent to the Australian reconciliation journey are the right to self-determination and the right to free, prior and informed consent (Article 4 and 19).

But despite the hard work and dedicated commitment, in a shameful episode, Australia was one of only four countries who refused to ratify the declaration, claiming it was incompatible with our national laws.

It was not until 2009 that Australia formally adopted the declaration under the Rudd Labor government.

Eight years on from endorsing the declaration, Australia too often fails to meet the standards.

Today, our governments, both federal and state, have much to do to meet the international standards for the protection of Indigenous rights.

The author

Senator Patrick Dodson is shadow assistant minister for Indigenous affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and Senator for Western Australia


Indigenous communities need to be part of the solution. Top-down measures don’t work (The Guardian)

United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (United Nations)


Senator Patrick Dodson / Sam Beebe / Flickr / Wikipedia / CC 2.0