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Why practical reconciliation is failing Indigenous people

Commission Commission – General

29 March 2001

Why practical reconciliation
is failing Indigenous people

The annual Social
Justice and Native Title reports of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Social Justice Commissioner Dr William Jonas were tabled in Federal Parliament

Both reports express
concern at the current lack of progress in the reconciliation process
and identify a range of commitments that need to be made at the national
level to achieve meaningful reconciliation.

"It has now been
10 months since the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation released its
four national strategies for reconciliation and four months since their
final report was tabled in Parliament, yet where is the commitment to
ongoing processes from government?" Dr Jonas asks.

"The reconciliation
process has the potential to be as significant as the process that led
to federation. It is critical that we turn the goodwill that currently
exists into tangible results for Indigenous people," says Dr Jonas.

Dr Jonas calls for
a commitment to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage as an urgent national
priority. "The current approach of 'practical reconciliation' simply manages
the inequality faced by Indigenous people. It is insufficient to reduce,
let alone overcome, the disadvantage faced. Where are the benchmarks and
targets?" Dr Jonas asks.

Dr Jonas also argues
that overcoming disadvantage alone will not be sufficient. "Reconciliation
is a human rights issue," Dr Jonas says. Dr Jonas argues that an approach
that is not based on a full acknowledgement of the wrongs of the past
and which does not respect the human rights of all Australians will not

The Social Justice
contains 14 recommendations setting out a human rights-based
framework for reconciliation, calling for:

  • the negotiation of a framework agreement (or treaty) at
    the national level, and negotiation of agreements at the regional
    and local levels, to protect future rights and address historical
  • a parliamentary inquiry to determine a mechanism for the entrenchment
    of a prohibition of racial discrimination
    in the Commonwealth
    Constitution within the next five years and to examine mechanisms
    for a Bill of Rights;
  • processes to increase the accountability and transparency
    of governments for policies to overcome Indigenous disadvantage; and
  • processes to facilitate the effective participation of Indigenous
    in decision making processes.

The Native Title
finds that the Australian law of native title provides insufficient
protection to the relationship that Indigenous people have with their
traditional land and sea country. "The responsibility lies squarely with
government to ensure that Indigenous cultures are adequately protected
in the Australian legal system, in full compliance with human rights principles",
Dr Jonas states.

"Terra nullius was
found by the High Court to be abhorrent to our contemporary values. Yet
the recognition of native title still does not acknowledge the deep spiritual
economic and social connection between Indigenous people and their land."

The report criticises
the full Federal Court decisions in the Miriuwung-Gajerrong case and the
Croker Island case. The characterisation of native title as a set of fragmented
rights rather than a fundamental relationship to the land and sea renders
native title vulnerable to extinguishment.

The report also
argues that the amended Native Title Act provides little opportunity for
native title holders to participate in the decisions that are likely to
have an adverse impact on their rights.

Summaries and full
copies of the reports are available on the HREOC website at:

Media contacts: Janine
MacDonald 0412 783 631 Margie Cook (02) 9284 9677 or 0418 637 230


updated 2 December 2001.