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Monday, 1 August 2022
Page: 253

Senator THORPE (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Australian Greens in the Senate) (11:08): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

In March I introduced this bill, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Bill 2022, to the 46th Parliament, and it is my pleasure to speak to it today. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, is an opportunity for the new Labor government to prove that they are committed to action, not symbolism, for First Nations people. Passing this bill would make honouring, respecting and protecting First Nations people's rights one of your first acts in government. This could be a historical moment. People in this building cannot claim to be serious about First Nations justice and hang up their dot paintings and call for black lives to matter if they vote against this bill. First Nations rights are human rights. If we want to make this country a better place we need to start taking human rights seriously.

This bill doesn't spell out exactly how the government needs to enact the UNDRIP. The bill instead requires the government to prepare an implementation plan to achieve the objectives of the UNDRIP, and to work towards ensuring that our current and future laws respect First Nations rights. Passing this bill means putting First People in the driver's seat when it comes to making decisions about our communities, our culture and our country.

The UNDRIP is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous people around the world and not just of First Nations people of this continent we now call Australia. The UNDRIP establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and wellbeing of First Nations peoples. It also expands on existing human rights and freedoms as they apply to indigenous peoples worldwide and to First Nations people of this continent. The UNDRIP is particularly significant because First Nations people of this country—our elders, academics and activists—were involved in its drafting.

The UNDRIP covers human rights relating to First Nations peoples, including self-determination, participation in decision-making, respect and protection for culture, and equality and non-discrimination. These are all essential demands my people have been fighting for ever since the colonisation of this country. We don't have to wait until next year, or for a referendum, to start protecting and promoting First Nations rights. The declaration was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2007. This country was one of just four countries to vote against it at the time.

While the Australian government finally endorsed the UNDRIP in 2009 and committed at international forums to take actions to implement it, we have seen nothing—no meaningful action. The Australian government identified that Closing the Gap was a strategy to key policy reform and that it would give effect to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, most of the measures under the strategy are woefully lacking in ambition and, despite this, most are not on track to be met at all. Closing the Gap is a farce.

Our people have waited long enough. All we have received are broken promises, lip-service and straight-up lies. We are not willing to wait anymore. We are dying at the hands of a racist system. Our children and land were stolen, and are still being stolen today; our country, culture and languages destroyed—even today. But we are strong and we are capable, despite this racist system trying to destroy us. We have fought and we'll continue to fight until we finally have some justice. The time to act is now.

One of the key aspects of the UNDRIP is free, prior and informed consent. 'Free' means that we're able to make our own choices, without coercion. 'Prior' means that we have adequate time to make those decisions. 'Informed' means that we have all of the relevant information before making our decision. Now, I don't think that's too much to ask. It enables us to protect country and sacred sites. Free, prior and informed consent would have saved the Juukan Gorge. It would have saved and stopped fracking at the Beetaloo, and it would save the Djab Wurrung trees on my country. It would mean that First Nations people are in charge of the policies that affect us, and would enable us to say no. These policies would, therefore, be much more effective at closing the gap.

By enacting UNDRIP, we will finally have to look properly at our decision-making processes and have different levels of government work with First Nations communities around the country to ensure that they are being genuinely consulted and that their opinions are genuinely and respectfully heard. For some of you, auditing our laws, policies and practices as to whether they comply with the UNDRIP, and then developing an action on actually how to change them, as this bill would require, might seem daunting or even threatening. It is going to take time and it will not be easy. Sometimes it will be painful—for many, I'm sure. But to me it does not seem daunting. To me it seems, among many other things, that there will be fewer First Nations communities seeking my help because their country or their sacred sites are being threatened with destruction by mining companies. To me, the thought that this country could be so courageous as to look at its past and present and learn from it, and to improve what we are doing, fills me with hope. It fills me with hope that there could be a brighter future ahead—not just for First Nations people but for everyone in this country. We are building a more just and equal society that respects human dignity and human rights.

Canada has already passed its United Nations Declaration on the Rights for Indigenous Peoples, and New Zealand has established a working group whose report outlines a political aspiration to meet compliance with the UNDRIP. This is our moment to lead the way in this country for First Nations justice internationally. This is the moment. We have a so-called progressive Labor government who want a voice to parliament, who want to talk truth and who want to talk treaty, so this is the moment. We have the power to do this now. We don't have to worry about the opposition, who want to bring this down and who see it as a threat. It's not going to take people's homes. It is no threat. It is to empower the oldest continuing living culture on this earth.

Today, I urge all my colleagues in this place to put your actions into words. Put your Black Lives Matter posters into words. Put your dot paintings, and your support of hanging those in your offices, into words. We can, together, improve the lives of First Nations people in this country. I look forward to working with you all and getting on with business. I hope that we don't hear too much racism in this place as we progress First Nations rights and justice. And I remind you all again—living on stolen land means you have a responsibility, and this is your responsibility today. Uphold the rights of Indigenous people in this country and show leadership, once and for all, that we are—or that we are on the path to be—a united nation.