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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9181


Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (20:00): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the inaugural international parliamentary conference on ‘Parliaments, minorities and Indigenous peoples: effective participation in politics’ was held in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico from 31 October to 3 November 2010;

(b) the conference was organised jointly by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Mexican Congress of the Union and Government of the State of Chiapas, in partnership with the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues and the Minority Rights Group International;

(c) the conference heard that many situations around the world demonstrate that an adequate representation of minorities and Indigenous peoples in policy and decision-making is instrumental in breaking the cycle of discrimination and exclusion suffered by members of these groups, and their ensuing disproportionate levels of poverty and related impediments to the full enjoyment of many civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and yet, minorities and Indigenous peoples often remain excluded from effective participation in decision-making, including at the level of the national parliament;

(d) the conference adopted the Chiapas Declaration, which urges every parliament, within the next two years, to inter alia, hold a special debate on the situation of minorities and Indigenous peoples in their country, recognise the diversity in society, and adopt a ‘plan of action’ to make the right to equal participation and non-discrimination a reality;

(e) the Chiapas Declaration recommended that at a minimum the following elements are contained in the ‘plans of action’:

   (i) ensure that the right to free, prior and informed consent is observed in every step leading to the adoption of legislative and administrative measures affecting minorities and Indigenous peoples, and hold government to account for the implementation of such measures;

   (ii) require of government that all submissions to parliament of draft legislation and the national budget include an assessment of their impact on minorities and Indigenous peoples;

   (iii) make regular use of plenary sessions in parliament and other parliamentary fora to discuss minority/Indigenous matters in order to raise awareness and combat prejudice in society, organise awareness-raising sessions for all parliamentarians so as to increase their knowledge of minorities and Indigenous peoples and the particular problems they face, and ensure that minority and Indigenous issues are mainstreamed into parliamentary work, especially at the committee level;

   (iv) allocate sufficient resources to the task of establishing dialogue between minority/Indigenous peoples and public institutions and to parliamentary committees to allow them to carry out effective outreach activities such as public hearings with minority and Indigenous peoples; and

   (v) increase parliaments’ familiarity with work being done within the United Nations system so as to equip them better to hold governments to account for their international commitments, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, urge ratification of International Labour Organisation Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, hold debates in parliament on the conclusions and recommendations made by the United Nations human rights treaty bodies and special mechanisms with regard to minority and Indigenous peoples' rights;

(f) the Chiapas Declaration also affirmed the responsibility of political parties to promote the effective participation of minorities and Indigenous peoples, and address their concerns in their party programs; and

(g) the IPU will facilitate networking among parliaments on this issue, monitor the implementation of the Chiapas Declaration and convene a follow-up meeting within two years to discuss progress and set targets for future action;

(2) urges the Government, parliamentarians, and political parties to familiarise themselves with the Chiapas Declaration; and

(3) calls upon the Government to facilitate a roundtable discussion with representatives of Australian Indigenous communities on issues arising from the Chiapas Declaration.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr KJ Thomson ): Is the motion seconded?

Mr Laurie Ferguson: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Ms PARKE: I am very pleased to speak to this motion, the genesis of which was my participation, on behalf of the Australian parliament, in the inaugural Inter-Parliamentary Union conference on Parliaments, minorities and indigenous peoples: effective participation in politics, that was held in Chiapas, Mexico, in late 2010, and involved 93 parliamentary delegates from 34 countries.

Many situations around the world demonstrate that an adequate representation of minorities and indigenous peoples in policy and decision-making is instrumental in breaking the cycle of discrimination, exclusion and poverty suffered by members of these groups. Yet minorities and indigenous peoples often remain excluded from effective participation in decision-making, including at the level of the national parliament.

The conference considered various examples of inadequate participation across different national political and electoral systems. It considered the consequences of poor participation of minorities and indigenous peoples, particularly with respect to decision-making and policy development, and it discussed and examined a range of programs designed to achieve higher levels of minority and indigenous engagement.

The IPU Chiapas conference applauded Australia's national apology to Indigenous Australians in 2008, our endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the government's implementation of the Indigenous Electoral Participation Program, which was specifically highlighted in the concluding remarks of that conference. However, the conference also recognised the vast over-representation of Aboriginal Australians in the criminal justice system and their significantly poorer health, education and employment outcomes.

There could be little doubt that the under-representation of Indigenous Australians in our ballot booths, in our parliaments and in other decision-making roles has been a significant factor in allowing the adverse situation experienced by so many to persist. It was only four years ago that a WA Indigenous elder Mr Ward died an entirely unnecessary and avoidable death while he was being transported 360 kilometres on a very hot day in the back of a prison van with no ventilation or air-conditioning. That terrible event occurred 107 years after the then Labor member for Coolgardie, Hugh Mahon, moved a motion in the first year of the federal parliament calling for a royal commission into the conditions for Aboriginal people in northern Western Australia and the administration of justice. That motion was never debated.

It was not until the 1960s that Indigenous Australians gained the right to vote and stand for election to the federal parliament. Since that time, while there have been a number of Aboriginal people elected to state and territory parliaments, there have only been three elected to this place—Senator Neville Bonner, Senator Aiden Ridgeway and Ken Wyatt, the member for Hasluck. In an interview with About the House magazine earlier this year, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said that, while politicians are getting better at communicating with diverse groups, there is no substitute for direct representation. He noted:

When ATSIC was finally abolished, there wasn’t one Aboriginal person in parliament.

Pino Migliorino, Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia, said in the same article, which was entitled 'Of the people', that it is clear the Australian parliament is also failing when it comes to representing people from other culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. He noted that the dominance of the political landscape by the major parties means they themselves need to take direct responsibility for improving diversity in the parliament.

In that article, I noted that all members have a role to play in improving diversity in both political parties and the parliament. I said:

I don't think indigenous or minority issues should be just a matter for indigenous or minority groups.

They concern us all, they affect the quality of our democracy, the inclusiveness of our democracy …

The IPU conference adopted the Chiapas Declaration, which urged every parliament, within two years, to adopt a plan of action to make the right to equal participation and non-discrimination a reality. One key initiative is to require that all submissions to parliament of draft legislation and the national budget include an assessment of their impact on minorities and indigenous peoples. Considering that Australia now has in place an assessment mechanism when it comes to our human rights obligations, I believe it would be possible, and not administratively burdensome, for an aspect of that process to be dedicated specifically to considering the impact on minorities and indigenous peoples.

The Chiapas Declaration also affirmed the responsibility of political parties to promote the effective participation of minorities and indigenous peoples and address their concerns in their party programs. This is a matter I intend to take up within my own party and I hope other members will consider doing the same.

Finally, I note that the Chiapas Declaration urged national parliaments to hold a special debate on the situation of minorities and indigenous citizens within two years. This motion is part of that debate and it also moves matters forward by calling upon the government to facilitate a roundtable discussion with representatives of Australian Indigenous communities on issues arising from the Chiapas Declaration. I thank those members taking part in this debate tonight, I thank the IPU for holding this important conference with the support of the United Nations and Minority Rights Group, and I thank the government of Chiapas in Mexico for being wonderful hosts. I look forward to the next IPU conference on this important matter. (Time expired)