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Aboriginal groups have told the United Nations in Geneva that the Australian Government must honour its promise of a treaty with Aboriginal people

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: Aboriginal groups have told the United Nations in Geneva that the Australian Government must honour its promise of a treaty with Aboriginal people. In a submission to the UN's working group on indigenous councils, 11 Aboriginal groups, including the Central and Northern Land Councils, said Aborigines want self-determination and self-management. However, Agnes Warren reports that the groups also believe that the Australian Government, unlike many others in the world, is heading in the right direction.

AGNES WARREN: The United Nations working group on indigenous populations is presently drafting a document on the rights of indigenous people throughout the world. It will be presented to the UN General Assembly, next year. Aboriginal groups in their submission to the UN, repeated calls for self-government and direct funding for remote Northern Territory Aboriginal communities.

The case was put by the Central Land Council's director, Tracker Tilmouth.

TRACKER TILMOUTH: As part of the Aboriginal delegation, the Central Land Council's position was and still is that funding for Aboriginal communities should not go to State authorities, in this case the Northern Territory Government, but go direct to the incorporated Aboriginal communities, therefore, giving them some semblance of self-government. This would allow Aboriginal communities to make their own decisions on where that funding should be spent, how it should be spent, and what results should accrue out of it.

AGNES WARREN: Mike Dodson of the Northern Land Council called on the Australian Government to honour its promise of a treaty with Aboriginal people, but Mr Dodson also defended the actions of the Government, saying while it was far from perfect, there are many that are worse.

MIKE DODSON: There have been .. they are perhaps the shining light in a very dark and gloomy scene, as far as the other governments are concerned. Their insistence on keeping language like 'self-determination' in the draft declaration got solid support from around the floor, both from .. mainly from non-government organisations. But it's a shame that many of the other governments don't take the same approach, and that's not to say that things with the Australian Government and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia is perfect. But in comparison to what other governments are saying, Australia is somewhat of a leader. It doesn't have to be a very bright light in the gloom and darkness of the government circle at this conference.

AGNES WARREN: For his part, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Robert Tickner, said he was proud of recent moves by the Government and called on all Australians to get serious about providing a better deal for indigenous people.

ROBERT TICKNER: Not only did Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people express concerns about issues of justice yet to be addressed, but they also acknowledged that the Australian Government did have a commitment to taking up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aspirations and doing something about it. But it is also very important to emphasise that coming out of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the initiative of the Federal Parliament to unanimously support a process of reconciliation, that we are very much in a new era in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs in Australia. And the Australian Government has a very forthright view about international forums. We are an open book to the world on the treatment of indigenous people. We don't suggest for a moment that there isn't continuing injustice, but what we do say is that no country can be an island on these issues, no country can turn its back on the rest of the world. The world is watching and we do have to be accountable and ought to do so in the most forthright manner.

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Robert Tickner, at the UN hearing in Geneva.