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A human rights agenda for the Northern Territory (2008)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice

“A human rights agenda for the Northern

annual Eric Johnston



Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Social Justice Commissioner

national Race Discrimination

Australian Human Rights Commission

at the

Northern Territory Library


17 November 2008


  • The Honourable Marion Scrymgour MLA;
  • the Hon Ross Bohlin MLA representing the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon
    Terry Mills MLA
  • The Hon Austin Asche QC AC and Dr Valerie Asche AM
  • Former Administrator, The Honorable John Anictomatis and Mrs Jan
  • Alderman Sue Mckinnon
  • Ms Jo McGill Director, NT Library;
  • distinguished guests and
  • my many family and friends from Darwin and across the Territory

Good evening and thank you for coming out in force tonight.

I begin by paying my respects to the Larrakia peoples, the traditional owners
of the land where we gather today. I pay my respects to your elders, to the
ancestors and to those who have come before us.

Thank you Donna Odegaard for your warm welcome on behalf of the Larrakia
peoples, many of whom I see here tonight. For those who are not aware, our
Kungarakan traditional lands share a common boundary with the Larrakia.

Thank you Minister Scrymgour for your introduction, and to Natalie May and Jo
McGill from the Northern Territory library for the invitation to address you

I am honoured to be invited to speak to you this evening in memory of
Commodore Eric Johnston – a man who epitomises what it is to be a
Territorian, and who served us well both in his military career, during cyclone
Tracy, and as the Administrator of the Northern Territory.

I join a very distinguished list of previous speakers and I am also honoured
to stand in their company.

I noticed that on the website for these lectures it states that the purpose
of the lecture is to ‘fill a serious gap’ in Darwin's cultural
calendar, and that the lecture is delivered annually, ‘in general
alternating between a prominent Territorian and a reputable interstate /
overseas personality’.

I have spent a lot of the past two years calling on all Australian
governments to ‘close the gap’ in Indigenous health inequality, so
am pleased to be able to assist tonight in ‘filling the serious gap’
that exists in the Darwin cultural calendar.

I am, however, not sure if I am intended to be a ‘prominent
Territorian’ or ‘a reputable interstate or overseas
personality.’ Given last year’s lecture was given by The
Honourable Austin Asche – a local and a ‘prominent
Territorian’ – I assume I am intended to be a ‘reputable

I can live with that.

I am, of course, also a proud Territorian – whose traditional lands
(those of the Iwaidja and Kungarakan tribes) are close to Darwin, which is the
place where I spent most of my life until 1992.

In considering what to cover in tonight’s speech I reflected on the
experiences of my family, many of whom are with us tonight. I particularly
reflected on one aunty who lives at Adelaide River, a small community 111 km
south of Darwin, and other aunties who lives in the Amangal Aboriginal
community, 200 metres across the road. One aunty can live in dignity and spend
her aged pension at the local shop while the others must travel up to 100 km to
spend 50% of their pensions at a designated supermarket or store because Amangal
is a prescribed community under the Northern Territory intervention.

So in accepting this speech, I wanted to reflect on what it is that is unique
and special about the Territory, and on some of the human rights issues that we
particularly face among our Aboriginal communities.

We in the Territory face so many issues – often uniquely –
and are also often the testing ground, the incubator, for a range of policies
and approaches before there is an attempt to introduce them more broadly to the

I provided the organisers with the rather bland title for this lecture of
‘a human rights agenda for the Northern Territory’.

It may be a bland title but I can assure you it is not a bland topic.

Not that I need to tell you about this – as you are, after all,
living through one of the most intensively controversial Indigenous experiments
in Australian history in the NT intervention.

This raises enormous human rights challenges for Indigenous men, women and
children in the Territory. Particularly in ensuring that we deal with violence
among our people while also settling a path of respect and equality.

And it also raises enormous human rights issues for all non-Aboriginal

When you go to the local shop and there is a separate line for Aboriginal
people to purchase their products, because of the store cards that they are
required to use – this is also a human rights issue for you.

When you consider that you are covered by all the protections of the law
– be it anti-discrimination laws or trade practices laws or guarantees of
just terms compensation under the NT Self-Government Act – but
Aboriginal people are not, this affects your human rights.

And if you consider that forms of compulsory welfare quarantining could
tomorrow be applied to you – be you a pensioner, a single mother or
unemployed – then this affects your human rights.

The simple fact is that so long as Aboriginal people in the Territory do not
enjoy equal rights, access to justice and procedural fairness – or in
short, the benefit of the rule of law – then no Territorian enjoys equal
rights or is secure in the protection afforded by the law.

And in a great democracy like Australia, the vulnerability of such basic
protections is a matter of great concern.

I have spoken of this issue many times, so I don’t intend to repeat
those issues here tonight. Instead, I intend to focus on two key human rights
challenges that are very much Territory issues. This is welfare quarantining
through the NT intervention and education delivery in remote Aboriginal

First, welfare quarantining.

One of the critical flaws of Indigenous policy that we have seen in the last
decade has been the lack of serious engagement and participation of Indigenous
peoples in Indigenous policy development and implementation.

The ‘fundamental flaw’ of the federal government’s efforts
over the past five years has been to apply government policy to Indigenous
peoples as passive recipients. The lack of engagement has frequently undermined
the policy initiatives themselves as we have seen with the Northern Territory

A few weeks back the federal government announced their preliminary response
to the NT Review Board on the NT intervention. They announced that they agree
in principle with the 3 overarching recommendations of the NTER Review
Board’s report. These recommendations:

  • emphasise the need to continue to address the unacceptably high rate of
    disadvantage in remote Aboriginal communities in the NT;
  • to do so by resetting the relationship with Aboriginal people based on
    genuine consultation, engagement and partnership; and
  • to do so by ensuring that all government actions respect human rights
    obligations and conform with the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

The Government stated that in agreeing with these principles they
would continue to protect women and children from violence as well as to ensure
that in the longer term the NTER measures cannot rely on the
suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA).

In relation to this, they have indicated that they intend to consult with
Indigenous communities about a non-discriminatory form of income management for
communities over the next twelve months.

Now I am keen to see the specific information about the measures and process
by which the government intends to engage with Indigenous communities and
individuals on this issue. And I acknowledge that the government has indicated
that it intends to provide a fuller response to the recommendations of the NTER Review Report before the end of 2008 and so I can only guess that
this is the point at which we will see this detail.

But speaking generally, I support this announcement and I see these two
commitments: non-discrimination and protecting women and children: as
complementary and not as competing priorities.

I am, however, disappointed that it will take at least twelve months to
implement these announcements and that the compulsory regime will stay in place
in the meantime.

The big question though, is how do we ensure community engagement on this

Federal government departments have, in my view, got out of the habit of
regularly consulting with Indigenous peoples and in many instances don’t
seem to know how to do it.

We need to reach a point where bureaucrats value such engagement and
understand its importance in terms of respect but also in terms of improving the
quality of their decision making and policy formulation.

This is a huge problem. And one that is particularly concerning when we look
at the difficult issue of income management.

I understand and I support the objective of ensuring that women are not
humbugged and that children are fed and clothed.

In my Social Justice Report to the parliament last year I provide a detailed
analysis of the income management system under the NT intervention and how it
stacks up against human rights standards.

In this I note that the human right to social security permits governments to
introduce measures that are targeted to ensuring that children and women benefit
from social security.

So it is possible within a human rights approach for there to be some form of
quarantining in order to guarantee that benefits actually reach their intended

But it is about doing this in a way that is not coercive, or lacks dignity,
or is poorly targeted or unworkable. And these are the problems of the existing
scheme under the intervention.

The challenge that we face here in the Territory is to refocus the current
intervention approach from an emergency to a community development approach in
improving the lives of Northern Territory Aboriginal children.

Unless the Government restores respect to and constructively engages with
Aboriginal people in the NT, the community ownership so essential for enabling
functional, resilient communities, will not be achieved.

As the NT Review report by Peter Yu, Marcia Ella Duncan and Bill Gray points

No matter how good the framework, no matter how much money is available, you
cannot drive change into a community and unload it off the back of a truck.
That is the lesson of the Intervention.

Deep seated change — safe healthy families —must be grown up
within the community. That is the challenge for Aboriginal people.

So careful and thorough consultations with all sections of the affected
communities is essential. There should be a process that is inclusive of both
women and men and where the free, prior and informed consent of community
members is sought.

And this should guide changes to the income management system.

Ensuring the safety of community members, particularly women and children
should be of paramount concern in this process.

This is particularly the case given the fears by women in some communities
that immediate lifting of compulsory income management could lead to violence
and intimidation associated with the practice known as humbugging.

Governments have an absolute duty to take action to ensure the safety,
security, access to adequate food and other fundamental human rights of men,
women and children where these fundamental rights are being denied by the
actions of other members of a community.

Some form of ongoing income management is therefore appropriate for
individuals who are proven objectively, through due process, to be negatively
impacting on the rights of other community members - especially women and
children - to personal security, adequate food, clothing and shelter.

But what is required is a carefully - targeted approach.

Such a targeted approach is fundamentally different to maintaining the type
of blanket income management measures on the basis of race that currently

Any measures to be applied to the entire community should only be implemented
with the voluntary agreement of the community, including affected women and

Compulsory income management is at best a stop gap measure and no substitute
for the sustained, long term action needed to make these communities safe for
women and children.

Now, my Social Justice Report 2007 to the federal parliament set out a 10
Point Plan to ensure the intervention is non-discriminatory. This provides a
mechanism that can assist the Minister in making the transition from emergency
intervention to community development.

Action 9 of my 10 Point Plan involves using ministerial discretion to remove
communities from the prescribed list of communities following the development of
Community Partnership Agreements.

This could enable a staged and incentive-based approach to removing
compulsory income management and other measures once the Minister is satisfied
that a particular community has sufficiently dealt with the issues of violence
and abuse or has a locally tailored plan to achieve this.

It is important that there is proper consideration of alternative mechanisms
to enable communities to transition to new arrangements according to their
specific circumstances and needs, and to ensure that transition occurs within
reasonable time-frames.

This could enable, for example, some communities to be removed from the
prescribed list immediately. Others could remain prescribed until such time as
community safety issues are addressed through Community Safety Plans (as
recommended by the Review Panel) or where Community Partnership Agreements are

Independent advice could be provided to the Minister to guide
decision-making. For example, a specially constituted panel could be
established to make recommendations to the Minister over whether a community
should be removed from the prescribed list drawing on the results of community
consultations as well as advice from the Department, police, the Australian
Crime Commission, Government Business Managers and other bodies.

This process that I am proposing would allow a transition from the current
model to the one outlined by the NTER Review Panel, in a way that does not
compromise the safety of vulnerable community members.

And It would enable the Government to respond to the specific circumstances
of individual communities, rather than maintaining blanket measures on the basis
of race.

It allows for communities to decide on the most appropriate measures to meet
their particular needs.

I urge the government to set deadlines and targets for when the transition
from the emergency to community development phase of the intervention is to be
completed and how the process will be undertaken. And I urge them to ensure
that their full response to the NT Review Panel’s report contains these
details of how they will consult about income management.

That is something that remains too vague at this point.

Of equal importance is the need to change the skewed priorities and wasted
expenditure of the NT intervention so that resources are directed to areas of
most need.

For example, as the NT Review Report notes as at July 2008:

  • there were safe houses in only 10 out of 73 target communities (none of
    which were operational),
  • night patrols in only 14 out of 43 target communities that previously did
    not have these,
  • extra police in only 17 out of 73 target communities that had not previously
    had police,
  • child special services in only 12 out of 83 target communities,
  • only 20 additional alcohol and other drug (AOD) workers for the entire NT;
  • Considerable backlogs remaining in adequate housing for Aboriginal people in
    the NT.

There is also a deadlock between Centrelink and FAHCSIA about who would bear the costs of providing a 1800 number for Indigenous people
to be able to change their details or make inquiries of Centrelink under the
intervention. This is particularly important due to the difficulties in
accessing money where details are wrongly recorded or change.

At present, there are only 1300 numbers that can be accessed from payphones
in many remote Aboriginal communities.

Calls from your home phone to Centrelink 13  numbers from anywhere
in Australia are charged at a fixed rate. That rate may vary from the price of
a local call and may also vary between telephone service providers. Calls to
1800 numbers from your home phone are free.

Calls from public and mobile phones may be timed and charged at a higher
rate. and there is anecdotal evidence that this is proving to be a costly
burden on Indigenous peoples in communities. A 1800 number is a practical issue
that has been continually raised as potentially making things easier for

The government is well aware of this issue and well aware that it is causing
hardship. I am assured by some senior officials that the issue is well-known at
the highest levels of government. And yet the issue is not fixed because
Centrelink and FAHCSIA cannot agree on who would bear the cost.

This type of bureaucratic inaction disadvantages Indigenous communities and
needs to be resolved.

I’d now like to turn my attention close to home and talk about
education policy – past and present.

This year in my Social Justice Report 2008 I devote a chapter to Indigenous
education. The purpose of this chapter is to outline processes that will guide
governments, parents and education providers in their efforts to create a
coherent educational environment for remote Indigenous young people.

I, like others, see the shortfalls of the education systems in remote

I despair at the negligible improvements in English and numeracy outcomes
along with the simultaneous erosion of Indigenous languages and culture.

School attendance rates are poor and Indigenous students are facing ever
reducing life chances. But where I depart from many of the vocal education
commentators is about why there is failure.

I am concerned that we are not addressing what it is that makes remote
schools viable and successful providers of quality education, and are instead
too focused on ideological debates about language and culture vs

Despite decades of educational debate and fluctuating attention on Indigenous
education, there appear to be no definitive approaches, no givens, no
fundamental positions that bureaucracies adhere to and categorically apply when
delivering education to Indigenous students.

This is borne out by two facts. Firstly, new approaches are being
continuously trialled in an effort to improve the less than acceptable benchmark
test results, and secondly the various approaches have not significantly
improved the academic achievements of Indigenous students over time.

Those people who have followed Indigenous education policy in past decades
will have witnessed a cyclic and repetitive process of ‘new’ and
favoured educational initiatives and approaches.

People who have been teaching for long enough will have noted how some
approaches are promoted, then demoted, only to re-emerge a decade later.

New attendance schemes, new literacy approaches and new curriculum frameworks
are worked and reworked. Some are funded for a short time and enthusiastically
embraced by schools, only to find that they have been de-funded at the end of
the funding cycle.

Schools continue to be the experimental grounds.

There are good reasons to explain why a sustainable and transferable
Indigenous education approach is elusive.

Education approaches are highly influenced by the environmental context. The
outcome of any approach is affected by the quality of the school leaders and
educators – where quality fundamentally includes the ability of these
professionals to adapt to the cultural context in which they are teaching. It
depends no the resources available to the students; the environment in which
the students are learning; and the general health and well-being of the

In remote areas, the school environment is often less predictable than in
urban settings. At the school level there are the following variables.

  • How well funded is the school?
  • Do the student numbers attract at least one full-time teacher?
  • What kind of books and learning materials are available?
  • Is there internet access?
  • How good is the school leadership?
  • Are there Indigenous leaders and teachers at the school?
  • Have the best qualified and most appropriate teachers been recruited to the
  • To what extent are the educators competent communicators in a cross cultural
  • How well trained are the teachers in literacy and numeracy approaches?
  • Are the teachers experts in their fields?
  • Are they even trained in the subjects that they teach?
  • What is the teacher turnover?
  • If the turnover is high, is the school curriculum structured in a way to
    avoid repetition and ensure continuity of content and complexity?

The outcome of any educational approach can be influenced by
resources in the local community.

  • What level of pre-schooling or early childhood learning is available and
    accessible to the children in the community?
  • How well resourced is the community in terms of healthcare services,
    housing, policing and access to affordable, nutritious food?
  • Is this influencing the health and the learning abilities of the children?
    For example, how prevalent is hearing impairment?

The governance and leadership within the community and the region
can also have a large impact on educational outcomes for students.

  • Are there regional plans or community plans that tie together pre-schooling,
    primary and secondary education and post school options like further study or
    employment pathways?
  • Are there leaders in the community to provide role models for the students?
  • To what extent is the community involved in the school and supportive of its
  • Is there employment or employment plans for the community and beyond so that
    students can see the relevance of learning and a life after school?

These are – of course – the type of issues that should
be integrated into the objectives of something like the NT Intervention –
at the community level and more broadly.

We know that the impacts that local resources, community governance and
school staff expertise can have on education are enormous.

Each school and each community is unique with its own strengths and
challenges. Therefore, while we can look at a whole school approach to literacy
for example, and know that it may have some impact on the students’
learning of literacy, we know also that there are numerous other variables at

We know that the approach will be influenced by the expertise of the teacher
and the functioning of the community. We know that just getting the child to
school is a factor.

All of this gives us some important information.

It tells us that any educational approach is only part of the equation.

There are numerous variables and a one-size-fits-all approach will not
achieve the same results in different environments.

Yet there is a problem here. Departments of education do not operate in a
way which provides a school-by-school approach to resource allocation.
Departments are not usually in a position to provide site analyses of schools
and communities and to tailor approaches to meet specific school and community

While there may be some provision for local requirements, departments are
usually reliant on formulas that drive staffing allocations and school resource

Smaller schools, and those that are more remotely based, are often
under-resourced in terms of people and expertise and therefore they can be
limited in their ability to advocate for improved infrastructure and learning

And a lot of the IESIP or Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Program
funding is grant-based and discretionary so it requires schools to apply for
funding, advocate for their school in a highly competitive process and then
coordinate the grant such as bringing on personnel and then of course they have
to administer the funds and report them.

A remote school with two to three teachers will be pressed to deliver the
curriculum program alone, and unable to dedicate resources for local advocacy.
In fact it is usually the successful schools and the loud advocates that attract
departmental resources.

Success can often bring additional resources and disadvantage can often breed
further disadvantage.

Schools perform poorly because they may be under-resourced and remote from
support services. In turn, education departments question the performance and
the viability of underperforming schools. Departments may be under pressure for
results from Commonwealth funders and state or Territory Ministers and
underperforming schools become a problem to be solved rather than a problem to
be resourced.

Underperforming schools are usually the small remote schools with high
proportions of Indigenous students who do not speak English as their first
language. It is these schools and these students who become the subjects of the
‘mainstream education’ verses ‘education in the
community’ debates.

While I have said that there are no agreed givens governing Indigenous
education approaches, implicit in the questions I ask here are assumptions about
the fundamentals that are required for a sound educational environment.

They are:

  • healthy children,
  • top quality teachers and school leaders,
  • Indigenous school leadership and Indigenous educators,
  • excellent learning resources,
  • pre and post school options, and
  • a well functioning community and region.

These all go a long way to providing for a good learning
environment. Developing processes to achieve these ends is the way forward to
achieve improvements in Indigenous education outcomes.

Now 9 years ago in this lecture series, the focus was on the lessons learnt
in Indigenous education.[1] For
reasons I will explain, it is a matter of enormous shame that the same lecture
could have been given tonight and the problems and criticisms that existed would
be equally valid.

As many of you will know, ten years ago the CLP Government took steps to end
the Bilingual education program here in Northern Territory.

There was much outcry and as I recall, Aboriginal people from affected
communities lined the runways of their airstrips to protest when any visiting
government representative flew into their community.

The outcry was so strong and so sustained that it took the government by
surprise and in 2000 the decision was overturned.

Well it must seem like a strange sense of dejavu to find that we are back at
that same point ten years on under a Labor Government which is trying to take
away the Bilingual programs.

As many of you will also know - in recent weeks the Northern Territory
Government has announced that it will make it mandatory to begin each school day
with four hours of English literacy. This will effectively finish Bilingual

This is a dramatic back flip for this government. In April of this year it
had professed commitments to supporting partnerships with remote schools. The
Department of Education had been requested to develop Community Partnership
Education Boards[2] which would:

allow communities to assume more responsibility and accountability for the
delivery of quality education and training services by empowering them to
coordinate the effective use of resources and expertise.

The Northern Territory schools that have Bilingual education approaches do so
with the full support and partnership of the local communities.

The Bilingual programs are driven by the commitment and expertise of trained
Indigenous teachers who are members of the community. Parents and community
members work in partnership with the local school and the Education Department.
This is exactly an example of an approach that the government had sought to
achieve through the Community Partnership Education Boards.

Nine government Bilingual schools will be affected by the government’s
decision and possibly one independent and three Catholic schools may lose the
additional funding that is required to run these programs.

But it is the children and the communities that have the most to lose.

And they are already telling me about their concerns.

This past fortnight my office has received information and a petition from
two affected communities.

The petition reads in part:

Our kids do not understand much English when they start school. If we teach
them only in English, they will not understand. They will miss out on learning
the important things they need to learn in the first years of school. We teach
the children English gradually. Bilingual is the doorway to education for our
kids, where it leads them to the wider world.

I find this all very disturbing for a number of reasons.

Firstly the government’s policy back flip effectively takes us away
from a school and Community Partnerships Approach – something that is
essential for sustainable outcomes into the future. Such a dramatic change in
approach can only be confusing for students, parents, teachers, community
members and Departmental staff. It epitomises the situation consistently faced
in Indigenous affairs nationally.

Secondly, I am bothered by the fact that this policy will only really affect
Bilingual schools and yet there is no evidence to say that Bilingual schools do
worse than non-Bilingual schools.

In fact there is evidence that Bilingual students do better in English
reading literacies than ‘English’ schools in their
regions.[3] And the English schools
offer education in English for all of the hours of the school day.

So let’s put that one to bed. Bilingual education does not kill off
English literacy. And Bilingual education has the added benefit of developing
literacies in the first language - meaning that children are learning
literacies in both their first Indigenous language(s) and in English.

I am also bothered about this policy from a human rights position. The
Convention on the Rights of the Child tells us at article 29.1 that:

... education of the child shall be directed to (c) the development of
respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity,
language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child
is living, the country from which he or she may originate and for civilizations
different from his or her own ...

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, at Article 14.1 also
tells us that:

Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational
systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner
appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.

It is time to stop developing policy from ‘on high’ without the
input and collaboration of Indigenous Australians.

I’d like to see Indigenous education policy that is led from our
strengths – from what works.

Let me give you a striking example.

I understand that this year, seven students from five homeland communities in
North East Arnhem Land will be the first homeland students to graduate with the
Year 12 Certificate.

This is truly extraordinary given the context and the history of education in
the remotest regions of the Top End.

I am aware that much of the effort that has delivered this outcome at the
Garrthalala School is due to parents, some dedicated Indigenous and
non-Indigenous teachers, Geelong Rotary Club who built an extra classroom, and
one or two committed government officers.

Students at Garrthalala receive formal school tuition for only three days per
fortnight. The community only got the electricity on this year. It relied on
volunteers to build the classroom. It is an extraordinary tale of success
against the odds.

Surely the preconditions that make these graduations possible should write
the policy that drives remote education.

So let me conclude.

Addressing the human rights challenges that we currently face is about
settling the foundations into place to ensure sustainable outcomes for the

We simply won’t have such outcomes without respect for human rights
– and that is a lesson that emerges from every period of the relationship
between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Australia.

This is because human rights are about recognising and respecting the
inherent value and dignity of all people. Human rights are very noticeable by
their absence – it is a feeling that something is not right.

Ultimately, human rights are for everyone, everywhere, everyday. Male and
female, young and old, rich and poor. Regardless of our background, where we
live, what we think or what we believe.

This is why human rights are described as ‘universal'.

Why are you entitled to human rights? Simply, because you are a human

You don’t have to be deemed ‘worthy’ by someone or by a
government in order to possess rights.

They simply apply on the basis that a child born tomorrow has the same start,
the same chance to succeed as everyone else – by virtue of the fact they
are born and for no other reason.

What human rights do is they set out minimum standards of protection for
vulnerable people and indicate what type of treatment is considered
unacceptable. This is treatment by governments, and also in how we interact
among ourselves as individuals and groups.

But human rights do so much more than this. Human rights also provide a
framework for engaging on issues and for setting a pathway of action. They
emphasise process and participation that ensures equality and non-discriminatory

They provide an accountability tool to guide governments in the development
of laws and policy.

A human rights based approach to policy development premises equality and
fairness in both the procedural aspects of policy making as well as in resource

This can work in two ways – it can enable governments to set a
proactive agenda for the realisation of rights. And secondly the human rights
framework can provide corrections to government laws and policies when they
disadvantage or discriminate.

If we look back over the past five years in particular we saw that a
‘practical’ approach to issues allowed governments to devise a whole
series of policies and programs, but without any ultimate accountability for
meeting the aims, or any accountability for instigating real change.

The challenge now is to redefine and understand these issues as human rights
issues in ways that holds governments accountable for protecting these

In my work I have spoken of the human rights based approach to engagement
with Indigenous peoples. This requires:

  • All policies and programs relating to Indigenous peoples must be based on
    the principles of non-discrimination and equality, which recognize the cultural
    distinctiveness and diversity of Indigenous peoples.
  • Indigenous peoples have the right to full and effective participation in
    decisions which directly or indirectly affect their lives.
  • Such participation shall be based on the principle of free, prior and
    informed consent, and
  • Capacity building always needs to be considered and resources made
    available to facilitate meaningful participation by Indigenous peoples as equal
    partners in planning, design, negotiation, implementation, monitoring and
    evaluation of policies that affect them.

We are a long way from this situation. And I think it is no
coincidence that we are also a long way from the level of success and
sustainability that we ought to be achieving.

Please remember, from self respect comes dignity, and from dignity comes

Thank you.

[1] Bob Collins, Learning Lessons -
Indigenous Education in the Northern Territory, Eric Johnston lecture 1999: see:

[2] Minister Scrymgour, Northern
Territory Minister for Education and Training, Transforming Indigenous
, 30 April 2008, available online at: accessed 7 October 2008

[3] Northern Territory Department of Employment, Education and Training, Indigenous Languages and Culture in Northern Territory Schools Report,
2004 – 2005, p. 35