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Thursday, 25 November 1993
Page: 3664

Senator CHAMARETTE —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Given that the government has been consulting with Australia's indigenous people for more than two years on the ratification of ILO convention 169 on tribal peoples, what is the government's position on ratification of the convention? Will the government ratify before the end of the Year of the World's Indigenous People? If not, why not?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The government has not yet formed a final view on ratification of ILO convention 169 because the process of consultation in this instance with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and with the state and territory governments, something we are always being commended to do by senators opposite, is still proceeding. The Department of Industrial Relations is the coordinating agency in this process and of course ATSIC is also closely involved.

  The question of ratification of this particular convention is quite complicated as it represents a comprehensive effort by the international community to set out the rights of indigenous people in a legally binding way. ATSIC is currently coordinating responses received from regional councils and other Aboriginal organisations on both the contents of the convention and the question of its ratification.

  Given the nature of the issues involved, it is understandable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being quite careful in their approach to the convention. While some elements of those communities do support ratification as a useful step in establishing international instruments for protecting indigenous rights, there are equally other elements in those communities urging a more cautious approach.

  In parallel, a thorough analysis of the degree to which Australia already complies with the provisions of the convention is currently being made by relevant departments, in conformity with normal Australian practice before ratification of international treaties is concluded.

  The progress of the government's native title legislation through this parliament is, of course, relevant to this issue and the faster that can be passed, the happier we will be in terms of what we can say about its implications for this convention.

  For all of these reasons I am not in a position to put any very firm time frame on when this consultative process will be completed. It is, however, clear that the government will not be in a position to ratify the convention before the end of this year.

Senator CHAMARETTE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. What has taken the process so long? Why is the government waiting when, to refer to a speech of Gough Whitlam, the 1967 referendum on Aborigines gave the federal parliament complete jurisdiction to ratify such a convention, and when the Prime Minister is entitled to claim electoral mandate to pass it this year, having made his Redfern speech on 10 December 1992 at the launch of the International Year of the World's Indigenous People?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am afraid that is very much a pre-programmed supplementary. The reason it has taken so long is the complexity of the convention, the range of issues that have to be addressed in it, all of which I spelt out in loving and elaborate detail in the long reply I just gave the honourable senator.