Social Justice Report 2009
Please be aware that this publication may contain the names or images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may now be deceased.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Social Justice Commissioner
- Note – Use of the terms ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples’ and ‘Indigenous peoples’
The position of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
was established within the Australian Human Rights Commission in 1993 to carry out the
(1) Report annually on the enjoyment and exercise of human rights
by Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders, and recommend
where necessary on the action that should be taken to ensure these
rights are observed.
(2) Promote awareness and discussion of human rights in relation to
Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders.
(3) Undertake research and educational programs for the purposes
of promoting respect for, and enjoyment and exercise of, human
rights by Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders.
(4) Examine and report on enactments and proposed enactments to
ascertain whether or not they recognise and protect the human
rights of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders
The Commissioner is also required, under section 209 of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), to
report annually on the operation of the Act and its effect on the exercise and enjoyment of
human rights by Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders.
- Mr Tom Calma: 2004 – present
- Dr William Jonas AM: 1999 – 2004
- Ms Zita Antonios: 1998 – 1999 (Acting)
- Mr Mick Dodson: 1993 – 1998
About the Social Justice Commissioner’s logo
The right section of the design is a contemporary view of traditional Dari
or head-dress, a symbol of the Torres Strait Island people and culture.
The head-dress suggests the visionary aspect of the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. The dots placed
in the Dari represent a brighter outlook for the future provided by the
Commissioner’s visions, black representing people, green representing
islands and blue representing the seas surrounding the islands. The
Goanna is a general symbol of the Aboriginal people.
The combination of these two symbols represents the coming together
of two distinct cultures through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Commissioner and the support, strength and unity which it can provide
through the pursuit of social justice and human rights. It also represents
an outlook for the future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social
justice, expressing the hope and expectation that one day we will be
treated with full respect and understanding.
© Leigh Harris
For information on the work of the Social Justice Commissioner
please visit the Commission website at: http://humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/index.html
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
recognises the diversity of the cultures, languages, kinship structures
and ways of life of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. There
is not one cultural model that fits all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples retain distinct cultural identities
whether they live in urban, regional or remote areas of Australia.
Throughout this report, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders are referred
to as ‘peoples’. This recognises that Aborigines and Torres Strait
Islanders have a collective, rather than purely individual, dimension to
Throughout this report, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are
also referred to as ‘Indigenous peoples’.
The use of the term ‘Indigenous’ has evolved through international law. It
acknowledges a particular relationship of Aboriginal people to the territory
from which they originate. The United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights has explained the basis for recognising this relationship
Indigenous or aboriginal peoples are so-called because they were living on
their lands before settlers came from elsewhere; they are the descendants
– according to one definition – of those who inhabited a country or a
geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or
ethnic origins arrived, the new arrivals later becoming dominant through
conquest, occupation, settlement or other means… (I)ndigenous peoples
have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics
which are clearly distinct from those of the other segments of the national
Throughout human history, whenever dominant neighbouring peoples have
expanded their territories or settlers from far away have acquired new lands
by force, the cultures and livelihoods – even the existence – of indigenous
peoples have been endangered. The threats to indigenous peoples’ cultures
and lands, to their status and other legal rights as distinct groups and as
citizens, do not always take the same forms as in previous times. Although
some groups have been relatively successful, in most part of the world
indigenous peoples are actively seeking recognition of their identities and
ways of life.1
The Social Justice Commissioner acknowledges that there are differing
usages of the terms ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’, ‘Aboriginal’ and
‘indigenous’ within government policies and documents. When referring to
a government document or policy, we have maintained the government’s
language to ensure consistency.
1 United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, The Rights of Indigenous Peoples,
Fact Sheet No.9 (Rev.1) (1997). At http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/Fact
Sheet9rev.1en.pdf (viewed 24 November 2009).s
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner thanks the
Australian Human Rights Commission staff (Alison Aggarwal, Allyson Campbell,
Fabienne Balsamo, Darren Dick, Jessica McAlary and Emilie Priday ) and interns
from the Aurora Project (James Malar and Tammy Wong) for their work in producing
this report. Thanks also to Greg Marks, Jon Altman, John Greatorex, the staff
and Board of Lhanapuy Homelands Association and Mt Theo Outstation, Mapuru
community members, Yuendumu community members, Patrick McConvell,
Jane Simpson, Josephine Caffery, Steve Berry, Alex Kelly, Michael Christie, Beth
Sometimes, and all those who have contributed information for this year’s report.
This publication can be found in electronic format on the Australian Human Rights
Commission’s website at http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/sj_report/
You can also write to:
Social Justice Unit
Australian Human Rights Commission
GPO Box 5218
Sydney NSW 2001
Design and layout:
Paragon Australasia Group
Fabienne Balsamo, photographer, 2009.
The cover photograph is of woven baskets produced by women of Mapuru. Mapuru
run a Cultural Tourism Project – Arnhem Weavers, which runs cultural tours and
workshops for small groups of tourists who come and live in Mapuru for 1–2 weeks,
and learn about weaving and other traditional activities. Mapuru is profiled in
chapter four of this report, as an example of a successful economic development
initiative by an Indigenous homeland.
© Australian Human Rights Commission 2009
This work is protected by copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the
Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), no part may be used or reproduced by any process
without prior written permission from the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Enquiries should be addressed to Public Affairs at: email@example.com.
Social Justice Report 2009
ISSN 1837-6428 (Print) and ISSN 1837-6436 (Online)