The Importance of Self-Determination Rights in Australia

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Self-determination is arguably the most essential of all human rights. It is principally vital to indigenous people in colonised states/nations as it helps them in renegotiating relationships and jurisdiction with governing states. By its virtue, vulnerable people can freely pursue their social, political, cultural and economic agendas (Short and Damien). This paper focuses on self-determination rights in Australian government. Its aim is to propose three things that the government should incorporate to enhance the protection of self-determination to the vulnerable groups.

            The first application of self-determination to Australia’s Indigenous policy was in 1972 when the Whitlam Labor Government assumed power. In its entirety; it included four areas of institutional reform. First, there was the strengthening of the Commonwealth’s role and the establishment of the Aboriginal’s Affairs department. Second, the government established a national Indigenous elected body known as NACC. Third, it encouraged the incorporation of community-based Indigenous organisations and finally, established the Royal Commission into land rights recognition. Unfortunately, these changes were a paradox as indigenous communities remained tied to control by the government (Short and Damien). However, since the election of the Rudd Labor government in 2007, positive changes have been observed. This includes the establishment of a new representative body aimed at recommending ways to recognise Indigenous people in the constitution of Australia. Regardless, much is needed to adequately protect self-determination rights of Torres Strait Islander peoples and Aboriginal in Australia.

            First, legislative and cultural changes are needed to reduce the limitations related to the judicial system to increase courts’ capacity to address the rights of these vulnerable groups. Currently, Australia has no constitutional recognition of Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Aboriginal people. In other words, Australia’s constitution continues to exhibit racial discrimination (Glaskin, 7).  For this reason, the courts have often been the single avenue available for these people to assert rights which are not politically popular. However, the courts are also limited to their power and independence. Additionally, Australia’s courts' system is faced by a challenge of not recognising or acknowledging cultural bias related to these vulnerable groups. Therefore, incorporating legislative and cultural changes that reduce judicial systems’ limitations, will increase courts’ capacity of addressing the rights of these vulnerable groups.

            Secondly, there is a need for the transformation of existing power structures to ensure equitable power sharing between these vulnerable groups and the state. Therefore, these communities will require infrastructure and capacity to be able to negotiate with the government on an equal footing. It will entail the inclusion of effective government policies as well as resources to promote and improve the social and economic welfare of Indigenous people. In other words, power-sharing will ensure equality in terms of education, housing, health and community resources.

            Lastly, there is a need for policy change in areas of land. Access to land is an integral part of self-determination as it acts as a means of identity and economic development. Currently, native title is used which is a weaker form of land title. Therefore, strengthening land and native title rights will aid in the restoration of land to Traditional Owners. This goes a long way in maintaining and protecting the cultural identity of such vulnerable groups.

            In conclusion, Australia has been slow to acknowledge Indigenous peoples’ rights through weak self-determination rights. Therefore, there is a need to strengthen and protect it through constitutional legislative change, cultural change and policy initiatives. This will strengthen the capacity of the vulnerable groups to participate as self-determining people.

Works cited

Short, Damien. Reconciliation and colonial power: Indigenous rights in Australia. Routledge,       2016.

Glaskin, Katie. "Australia, Aboriginal Rights in."The International Encyclopedia of             Anthropology (2018): 1-8.

December 12, 2023

Race and Ethnicity

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