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Aboriginal leader calls for Government action -

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Aboriginal leader calls for Government action

The World Today - Friday, 13 February , 2009 12:45:00

Reporter: Linda Mottram

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom
Calma says there are some things the Government should do immediately.

They include reinstating race discrimination laws in the Northern Territory which had been
suspended for the intervention.

He also wants the Government to make the promised statement of support for the UN Declaration on
Indigenous rights and act on recommendations from years' old reports into Aboriginal deaths in
custody and the forced removal of children.

Radio Australia's Linda Mottram has been speaking to Mr Calma in Canberra about the meaning of the

TOM CALMA: For many I've spoken to, the apology, even though it was welcomed, also had a negative
impact in that it made them relive the past and so that had an adverse impact. But for others it
was a cathartic situation that allowed them to start their journey of healing in a meaningful way
and it was a recognition by Government.

And also I think there's a big expectation that in that recognition there will greater I guess
consideration of the recommendations of the 'Bringing Them Home' report now, and so that we might
see some more attention paid to that report by governments.

LINDA MOTTRAM: So is it one of your expectations that the current Australian Government should make
that a priority, addressing the recommendations of that report?

TOM CALMA: I think they do and it's important that at least in the recognition of the
recommendations, they identify what they will support and what they won't support so we can put it
to rest. But it's like a lot of the report said, that government receives or they in fact initiate,
they sit around. We saw the royal commission into the Aboriginal deaths in custody. The majority of
those recommendations haven't been addressed.

We've seen the Government through the NT intervention you mentioned, conduct a review. They
organised for a team of people, very eminent people to undertake the review, an independent review.
They reported back to Government. The Government still hasn't made a formal response to the
recommendations of that report other than to say that by the Spring sitting of this year, which is
August-September, they will make sure that the legislation complies with Australia's domestic and
international human rights obligations, including the Racial Discrimination Act.

So I think there's still a long way to go and there's still the big question of why, why we need to
wait until, you know, September to reinstate one of our most fundamental human right protections
and that's the Racial Discrimination Act.

We have to remember that human rights aren't just human rights for Aboriginal and Islander people.
They're human rights for all Australians.

LINDA MOTTRAM: One of the outstanding issues for the Rudd Government is the United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, yes exactly. Now the previous Australian government
voted against it. What should the Rudd Government do? It is being considered a response, isn't it?

TOM CALMA: It is being considered and it's important that our listeners recognise that 141 or 143
countries around the world voted in favour of the declaration and Australia, New Zealand, Canada,
and the United States voted against it and 11 countries abstained.

What we've seen already is that the Canadian Parliament has voted to support the declaration. We've
seen President Obama indicate that he recognises the Indigenous peoples of America; he recognises
the treaties and he'll put them into full force. He's creating opportunities within his Government
and within the Parliament to have dedicated positions for Indigenous peoples, you know. Massive
change in attitude, you know, and a very positive change.

New Zealand already have dedicated members of Parliament. You know Australia and the Australian
Government now needs to declare their support to the United Nations for the declaration. It's
important I think for the Australian Government, particularly post-apology to get out and again
elevate the status amongst the Indigenous peoples of the world amongst the United Nations.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom
Calma, speaking to Linda Mottram.