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FOR – Bills — United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Bill 2022; Second Reading

Anne Urquhart

by leave—I withdraw the amendment moved by Senator Dodson.

Don Farrell

I thank those who have contributed to this debate. In 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration laid out a set of universal rights for first peoples from across the globe. It included first peoples' rights to self-determination and participation in decision-making processes. After the Howard Liberal government refused to ratify the declaration in 2007, it was the Labor government led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that chose to adopt its principles in 2009. The leadership by the Labor government to become a signatory ensured that governments to come would make efforts to give practical effect to the declaration. Under the Albanese Labor government, we are proud to be able to say that we are working hard to continue to uphold the values and the principles laid out in the declaration. It has formed our entire approach to our policies in relation to improving outcomes for First Nations people in this country.

The legislation proposed by Senator Thorpe, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Bill 2022, is modelled on legislation passed in Canada in 2021. This government acknowledges that much of Canada's work in relation to supporting and advancing the interests of their first peoples is world leading. However, this government also acknowledges that Indigenous Australians need legislation and policies that will be effective for Indigenous Australians.

Since last year, the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs have inquired into the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Australia. On 28 November the joint standing committee presented its report. I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the fantastic work of my friend and colleague Senator Patrick Dodson, the chair of this committee.

I'd also like to join the chamber's sentiments in relation to praising Senator Dodson's incredible career and service to this place, as well as to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia. I wish him well in his forthcoming retirement.

The report that was presented to the Senate on 28 November includes contributions from experts, organisations and community members alike from across Australia and overseas. The report makes six recommendations. The recommendations seek to, firstly, ensure stronger alignment to the declaration in the government's policy development; secondly, gain agreement between jurisdictions to approach a further implementation; and, thirdly, develop civics education programs.

Let me be clear: there are no recommendations from the joint standing committee's report suggesting this government should adopt Canada's approach to the United Nations declaration, which is essentially what is in this bill today. What these recommendations do endorse is a renewed commitment from governments to ensuring that self-government and participation in decision-making remain at the heart of policy development and legislative change for matters of Indigenous affairs. It is what has underpinned this government's approach to Indigenous affairs and, in the spirit of those three principles, we as a government will ensure that we take time to engage and consult with First Nations people in a deliberate and meaningful manner. Our government will ensure that our response to those recommendations is determined in partnership and through meaningful consultation with First Peoples. To do otherwise would be entirely inconsistent with the very principles of UNDRIP. We must take the time to get this right.

This Labor government, like Labor governments before it, is proud to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We believe in the right to self-determination and participation in decision-making. We know that, when First Peoples are meaningfully involved in the development of laws and policies about them, those laws and policies are more successful. We took to the last election an agenda centred on tackling disadvantage, supporting self-determination and empowering Indigenous communities. This included our commitment to hold a referendum on constitutional recognition. We, of course, respect the decision of the Australian people. We remain firmly committed to delivering a better future for Indigenous Australians, and we remain firmly committed to closing the gap.

Our priorities are the priorities Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders have themselves spoken about: health, education, jobs, housing and justice. We're getting on with the job, replacing the failed CDP with a program that is about real jobs, real wages and investing in the projects and services local communities need. We're improving water supply and treatment in remote communities, investing in basic services in the homelands for the first time in many years. There is justice reinvestment to keep people out of jail, reduce offending and change the path of people's lives for the better. We're getting on with the job of delivering a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, investing $164.3 million to refurbish and build critical health infrastructure for more than 17 Aboriginal community controlled health services. We are expanding renal services by investing $45 million to deliver up to 34 chair dialysis units to provide life-saving health care. Progress is underway at six dialysis sites, and a steering committee, through co-design with the sector, is progressing future locations. Over 1,000 bedrooms have been delivered in the Northern Territory through Commonwealth funding under the national partnership. This is in stark contrast to those opposite, who cut more than $500 million from Indigenous affairs in their first budget in 2014.

In relation to First Nations justice, we are investing $81.5 million in up to 30 community led justice reinvestment initiatives across Australia. We are establishing an independent National Justice Reinvestment unit, as recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission. This is the largest justice reinvestment package ever committed by the Commonwealth.

These projects will address the underlying socioeconomic drivers that increase First Nations people's risk of contact with the criminal justice system, working with local communities on local solutions.

We have heard from communities right around Australia—urban, regional and remote—in every state and territory about how to design a program that will work for them. We've been providing readiness support in several communities, including Katherine in the Northern Territory, the Pilbara in Western Australia, Townsville in Queensland, Port Augusta in South Australia and Circular Head in Tasmania, and we have delivered on our commitment to set up a justice reinvestment program in Alice Springs. This is part of a $99 million First Nations justice package that also includes unprecedented investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services to provide culturally appropriate legal assistance in coronial inquiries and real-time reporting of deaths in custody. The government is working closely with the states and territories on a proposal to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

But, of course, we acknowledge more can be done. As a signatory to the declaration, we commit to taking further steps to realise those international standards and to do so in the spirit of partnership and mutual respect. The United Nations declaration brings together existing human rights and applies them to specific contexts affecting Indigenous peoples. It provides a framework for countries to realise these rights but provides flexibility so the specifics can be determined at a domestic level. While we have structures in place to facilitate first people's perspectives, more can and should be done. As I mentioned earlier, the joint standing committee presented its report on 28 November. This government will take time to consider the report thoroughly and work with first peoples on how best to move forward. We will take this time because of the fact we have signed up to the declaration and because we are committed to working with local communities towards a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 9:41 AM on 2023-12-06
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 10
Total number of "no" votes: 27
Total number of abstentions: 39
Related bill: United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Bill 2022

Adapted from information made available by