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UN committee damns government by agreeing with its own secret advice.

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Robert McClelland MP

Shadow Attorney-General

Federal Member For Barton

Contact: Simon Banks Ph: (02) 6277 4323 or 0419 638 587






The Howard Government has severely embar rassed all Australians with its policies on native title and human rights, according to the Shadow Attorney-General, Robert McClelland.


“This decision is extremely embarrassing for all Australians,” Mr McClelland said. “And the failure by the Howard Government to acknowledge the need for action to rectify these deficiencies in our laws will only further tarnish our international reputation.


“Because of the actions of the Howard Government, Australia will now be seen by the international community as having a government that is prepared to implement racially discriminatory policies.


“The UN Committee’s decision confirmed today what the Labor Party said during debate in 1997 and 1998 on the Government’s amendments to the Native Title Act 1993. The Government’s 10 point plan is inconsistent with the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (‘CE RD’) and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (‘RDA’).


“The Committee also indicated that it supports Labor’s concerns about the Government’s proposals to restructure the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (‘HREOC’), to abolish the specialist Commissioners and, in particular, to abolish the position of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.


“It is extremely disappointing to hear from the Attorney-General today that the Government will ignore the need to find a non-discriminatory approach to native title and will press ahead with its Bill implementing the restructure of HREOC in the House of Representatives next week.


“The Government’s response is even more disappointing when they have known for some time that their amendments were racially discriminatory.


The Chief General Counsel, Mr Henry Burmester, advised the Howard Government on 25 July 1997 that, in his view:


….in some circumstances the proposals in the 10 point-plan may involve an inconsistency with the RDA or with CERD. This inconsistency arises particularly in relation to the validation regime, the confirmation regime (especially the provision for ‘perman ent extinguishment’ if this is found not to be the common law position), and the provisions which enable rights of pastoral lessees to be enhanced at the expense of co-existing native title rights.


“It is hypocritical in the extreme for the Government to now claim that the UN Committee got it wrong when all it did was agree with the Government’s own legal advice, Mr McClelland said.


“If the Government claims that their legal advice was different then they should release Mr Burmester’s advice immediately. Otherwise, all Australians, and the international community, are entitled to believe that they have been lied to and that the Howard Government knowingly enacted a racially discriminatory law.


‘The Government must now sit down with all stake holders, in particular Australia’s indigenous peoples, and come up with a response to native title that respects the rights of everyone with an interest in the land. Fundamental human decency demands no less.”


19 March 1999