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United Nations Committee misunderstands and misrepresents Australia: UN Committee ignores the Australian Parliament and ignores evidence.

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19 March 1999







- UN Committee ignores the Australian Parliament and ignores evidence -



The Government notes the views of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) but simply does not agree with the conclusions reached.


The Committee’s comments are an insult to Australia and all Australians as they are unbalanced and do not refer to the submission made by Australia on the native title issue.


We do not agree that there was insufficient consultation with indigenous people about the amendments to the Native Title Act.


The Government’s view, as advised to the Committee, is that Australia has not breached the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.


The Committee also seems not to have considered the implications of the High Court’s Wik decision.


The Committee has only expressed concern at some aspects of the Native Title Act. These concerns are the same as those that were extensively debated within Australia in relation to the 1998 Act.


The Committee is not a court, and does not give binding decisions or judgments. It provides views and opinions, and it is up to countries to decide whether they agree with those views and how they will respond to them.


It is up to the Australian Parliament and the Australian Courts to determine the validity of native title legislation.


The comments by the committee are unbalanced and fail to understand Australia’s system of democracy.


The comment that the amendments should be suspended highlights that CERD misunderstands Australia’s system of democracy.


The Government has no power to suspend an Act, the Act was passed by the Parliament and is in operation unless or until Parliament amends it.


The voice of indigenous leaders was heard in this debate. Evidence was given by ATSIC and by other organisations representing indigenous interests to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Native Title.


A critical assessment from CERD was expected because some committee members had obviously made up their mind on the issue before Australia presented evidence.


Media reports have noted that some committee members clearly did not understand Australia’s legal system, let alone the detail of the complex native title issue.


The media has also reported that some committee members conceded that they had not understood the material presented to the committee.


As Australia stre ssed to the Committee, the Government sought to obtain a consensus in relation to its response to the Wik decision.


Despite significant efforts, such a consensus was not possible. The fact that a consensus could not be achieved does not in the Government’s view make the Act racially discriminatory.


There was an extensive process of consultation with all stakeholders in the development of the Amendment Act, including with indigenous representatives. There were numerous meetings with indigenous leaders, including several involving the Prime Minister.


There was a major public debate on this matter. There was a very open process of policy development. There was an extremely lengthy and vigorous debate on the legislation by the Australian Parliament.


But in the end the Parliament and the Government had to strike a balance between all the interests involved. That balance included amendments proposed, or generally supported by, indigenous interests.


The fact that the balance included amendments which were not supported by indigenous leaders does not make the Act racially discriminatory.


The workings of the Act will continue to be reviewed by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Native Title and the Land Fund.


The Government does not believe it is necessary for the committee to visit Australia in order to analyse legislation.


The fact that the Committee received so many submissions on the issues goes to demonstrate that Australia is a vibrant, pluralist democracy with a proud tradition of free speech. However, all the issues which were raised in submissions to the Committee were also raised in the public debate in Australia.


No new issues have been canvassed. All the issues were considered domestically, in particular in the extensive Parliamentary consideration.


It is disappointing that CERD has decided that the issue should remain on its agenda. The Government has cooperate d extensively with the committee and the Government is continuing to work with indigenous groups and others within Australia to consult on native title.


The Government remains open to on going discussion and consultation on native title. The Government believes that the Native Title Act as amended continues to provide significant benefits to Australia’s indigenous peoples.


The Government is firmly of the view that the Act provides the appropriate balance between the rights of native title holders and the rights of others with interests in Australia’s land and waters.


The Government is committed to protecting and promoting the human rights of all people and upholding the principles of racial non-discrimination.



Media contact:  Nicholas Harford (02) 6277 7300 or 0419423 965