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HREOC Social Justice Report 2002: Media Pack

Social Justice Report 2002

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  • Media Summary

    This document
    is intended to provide a brief overview of the main findings of the Social
    Justice Report 2002. See the executive summary of the report for a more
    detailed description of the reports findings.

    The Social Justice
    Report 2002 discusses initiatives currently underway or in development
    at the federal, state and territory levels in relation to Aboriginal and
    Torres Strait Islander Affairs. The report commends the following positive
    developments in Indigenous policy:

    • The commitment
      of governments at all levels to partnerships with Indigenous peoples
      including through statements of commitment to negotiate service delivery
      arrangements with Indigenous organisations and commitments to negotiation
      justice agreements;
    • The commitment
      of the federal government to principles for the equitable provision
      of services to Indigenous peoples
      as part of its response to the
      Commonwealth Grants Commission's report on Indigenous funding;
    • Recognition
      by governments of the central importance of capacity building of Indigenous
      and of supporting and developing Indigenous governance
    • The commitment
      of the Council of Australian Governments to processes for addressing
      Indigenous disadvantage
      , including the establishment of a framework
      for reporting on Indigenous disadvantage, the formulation of action
      plans at the inter-governmental level in specific areas and a trial
      in ten communities of a whole-of-government approach to service delivery;
    • Support of
      the federal government
      at the international level to the effective
      operation of the newly created UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

    Overall, however,
    the Report evidences that the past year has been another difficult one
    for Indigenous peoples in this country.

    In trying
    to provide a snapshot of the status of Indigenous policy making and achievements
    by governments over the past year, it is difficult to see any consistent
    forward trend. There have been marginal improvements in some statistical
    indicators, but deterioration in others. The policy approaches of governments
    are ultimately full of inconsistencies, ad hoc developments, and commitments
    that not only remain unmet but which are not adequately supported by institutional

    There have been two
    particularly worrying trends
    that have been confirmed over the past
    year at the federal level. The first is a continuation of the antagonistic
    and adversarial approach to Indigenous policy by the federal Government.

    bi-partisan support for reconciliation and directions in Indigenous policy
    has been undermined by the limited focus of the Government.
    areas on which there is common ground are relatively few - and basically
    relate to agreement on the need to overcome Indigenous disadvantage -
    and there is even less agreement on what are the best ways to address
    such issues.

    The second worrying
    trend is the relegation of Indigenous issues to a second tier issue for
    the Government.
    While reconciliation was a priority for the second
    term of the Government, it does not even rate a mention in recent announcements
    of the Government's strategic long term vision for Australian society.

    issues are not treated as a national priority, and there are no public
    commitments to timeframes for achieving results in areas on which there
    is substantial agreement - such as Indigenous disadvantage.

    At the state and
    territory levels, there is much goodwill being expressed with extensive
    commitments to partnerships with Indigenous peoples. These partnerships
    remain works in progress and it is unfortunate that they have not yet
    been accompanied by the necessary institutional support or action.

    The one true highlight
    of the past year, however, has been the demonstration through a range
    of processes that Indigenous peoples are not going to sit back and wait
    for governments' to solve the various problems faced in communities.

    communities across the country are demonstrating that they are not passive
    victims but distinct peoples fighting hard for the survival and recognition
    of their cultural distinctiveness. Indigenous communities across the country
    know what they want and are working towards building their capacity and
    striking agreements with governments to implement it.

    Given the minimal
    framework for Indigenous policy being set by the federal government, the
    report deliberately seeks to place Indigenous issues within a broader
    context. The report highlights the differences between self-determination
    and self-empowerment; practical reconciliation and progressive realization
    and a rights framework for addressing Indigenous disadvantage; and by
    considering international developments in the recognition of Indigenous
    rights. Each demonstrates the severely constrained approach that has been
    adopted by the federal Government and hints at the potential in a broader,
    rights-based approach.

    The Report raises
    significant human rights concerns about the following developments in
    Indigenous affairs in relation to:

    • Reconciliation;
    • Self-determination;
    • Indigenous women
      in the criminal justice system; and
    • International
      negotiations on Indigenous rights.

    Reconciliation (Chapters 3
    and 4)

    The report notes
    current developments in reconciliation including:

    • Public statements
      by Minister Ruddock on the Government's direction in Indigenous affairs,
      including on agreement making, partnerships and treaty processes;
    • Budget announcements
      on Indigenous specific expenditure;
    • Responses to the
      documents of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and report of
      the Commonwealth Grants Commission; and
    • The reconciliation
      framework of the Council of Australian Governments.

    There are two main
    features which run through the government's practical reconciliation approach:

    • It marginalises
      Indigenous people from having any role in setting the priorities or
      agenda for Indigenous affairs, even under the rubric of 'partnership
      and agreement-making'.
    • The efforts of
      the Government have been directed towards the goal of cementing this
      reductive approach into place, including at the inter-governmental level
      with the consequence that the limited processes for accountability are
      not directed to those issues which the Government does not agree with.

    The report concludes

    • The Government's
      approach emphasises citizenship rights and the ideal of an inclusive
      society but does not elaborate what recognition the special place that
      Indigenous people occupy as the 'first Australians' or recognition of
      Indigenous culture might entail:

      offer of inclusiveness to Indigenous Australians without consideration
      of the rights and values inherent within Indigenous cultures sounds
      all too much like invitation to conform to mainstream Australian society
      without extending a reciprocal invitation to non-Indigenous Australia
      to examine its relationship to the Indigenous population. Inclusiveness
      (so defined) ... is potentially a form of neo-assimilation.

    • The record level
      of expenditure on Indigenous specific issues in the latest Budget still
      falls a long way short of the necessary funds projected to meet outstanding
      deficits across a range of key areas. Significantly the Budget does
      not provide any increase in the government's existing allocation of
      $11 million funding for Indigenous-specific family violence projects
      over a four-year period, despite the intense media attention given to
      this subject over the past year and the government's use of this issue
      to reinforce its call for a practical reconciliation.
    • Developments at
      the inter-governmental level, as reflected in the Council of Australian
      Government's Reconciliation Progress Report of April 2002, demonstrate
      that there is evidence of much good will, but substantial progress is
      yet to be made in addressing Indigenous disadvantage. Of particular
      concern is the lack of developments in regard to reporting Indigenous
      data and the establishment of action plans by each of the Ministerial
      Councils under COAG.
    • The agreement
      by COAG for the Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State
      Service Provision (SCRCSSP) to develop a framework for reporting on
      key indicators of Indigenous disadvantage is a significant institutional
      development in measuring progress for Indigenous peoples (note: Chapter
      4 details a range of concerns with the current draft framework). When
      assessed from the perspective of human rights standards and recent international
      developments integrating strategies for poverty eradication and development,
      it can be seen that it is a partial measure and needs to be built on
      with other processes and analysis.

      the Steering Committee's framework must be acknowledged as a significant
      development. It is in fact the only positive form of monitoring
      and evaluation that the Government has provided for practical reconciliation.
      The overarching concern however is that if constructed and too narrowly
      focused on practical reconciliation, to the exclusion of other important
      factors it could be co-opted as a political tool for reinforcing
      and legitimizing what is ultimately a limited approach to Indigenous
      issues ... As a result, the framework as a stand alone mechanism has
      the potential to reinforce practical reconciliation and marginalize
      further other issues of significance to Indigenous peoples.

      Care must be
      taken, however, to ensure that the Steering Committee framework
      is not seen as a panacea or as intended to fulfill the monitoring
      role across the full range of issues. In my view, the greatest deficiency
      in this process is not the draft indicative framework per se but
      the fact that it currently exists in isolation from any other form
      of performance monitoring, particularly on identifying progress
      on important goals such as capacity building and governance reform,
      as well as identifying the unmet need and accordingly whether policy
      approaches are moving forward or in fact regressing.

    • The agreement
      by COAG to trial a 'whole-of-government' approach in ten Indigenous
      communities is to be commended and will be closely scrutinised as it

      In order
      to avoid replication of past problems it is crucial that the fundamental
      issues concerning Indigenous service delivery be addressed and factored
      into the trial's processes and evaluation framework. The rights and
      autonomy of Indigenous partners be respected to ensure effective participation,
      and for Indigenous ownership of processes and structures be involved
      in modelling. Equal emphasis needs to be given to the responsibility
      of governments and government departments and agencies in improving
      their performance in regard to Indigenous communities.

    • The Government's
      response to the Commonwealth Grants Commission's report into Indigenous
      funding contains a number of important undertakings and commitments,
      which are made in the context of 'Principles for equitable provision
      of services to Indigenous people' an agenda that provides an accountability
      framework for Government. However, the Government's response is confined
      to issues that fall within the 'practical reconciliation' agenda. The
      continued narrowing of the government's focus on Indigenous funding
      to consideration solely of relative need means that some important issues
      highlighted by the CGC Report are largely disregarded.
    • "

    • The Government's
      Response to the Final Report of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation
      is certainly not representative of the content of the Council's recommendations:
      it responds to only one of the Council's six final recommendations,
      and it outright rejects one of its four, integrated national strategies.
      The report expresses concern at:
      • the minimalist
        response to the 'symbolic' issues raised in the reconciliation documents;
      • the misrepresentation
        of self-determination as divisive (see chapter 2 for a thorough analysis
        of this point);
      • An emphasis
        on perceived areas of agreement at the expense of continuing debate
        on other areas on which the government does not agree; and
      • A misrepresentation
        of progress towards meeting the goals of practical reconciliation.

        Close examination
        of the gains from reconciliation for Indigenous people listed
        in Government's response to CAR ... suggests that the government
        is not providing a very clear delineation of outcomes for Indigenous
        people but a somewhat limited and even misleading view.

        Again, the
        absence of a long term commitment to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage,
        with short, medium and long term targets, masks the distinct lack
        of progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage within a practical
        reconciliation approach. There is a continual need for Indigenous
        organisations to unravel the statements of the Government so that
        it can be held accountable for the real lack of achievement.

    Self-determination (Chapter

    Government's opposition to self-determination is not merely rhetorical.
    It has consequences and places limitations on the breadth of enjoyment
    of rights by Indigenous peoples and on their ability to participate meaningfully
    in processes that affect their lives.

    The limited, reductive
    framework for 'practical reconciliation' excludes consideration of a range
    of important human rights factors in setting policy. Chapter 2 of the
    report details limitations in relation to the Government's approach to

    The Report finds
    that there are a range of significant differences between the Government's
    approach to self-determination and the understanding of it that has developed
    in international law. Ultimately, when we scratch beneath the surface
    of the Government's rhetoric their approach is exposed as a reductive,
    minimalist one that is not prepared to accommodate Indigenous aspirations
    or recognise any distinct status of Indigenous peoples in any meaningful

    There are five
    main concerns
    about the Government's approach, when compared to the
    fuller understanding of self-determination in international law.

    1. The Government's
      reliance upon inflammatory, provocative untruths to reject Indigenous
    2. The failure,
      or perhaps refusal, of the Government to accept that any consequences
      flow from recognising the unique, distinct status of Indigenous peoples
      in this country.

      At present, the
      relationship between Indigenous people is defined according to little
      more than the beneficial intentions of Government to improve the life
      conditions of grossly disadvantaged Indigenous peoples. Such intentions
      are easily twisted into resentment and frustration at the amount of
      money spent when the desired improvements are not forthcoming. Defining
      a peoples' status and rights purely through their experiences of disadvantage
      is a dominating and disempowering approach. It is not a respectful
      basis for a relationship.

    3. The lack of
      recognition of Indigenous peoples' unique status has meant that there
      is no underlying basis, no guiding principles, for relations between
      governments and Indigenous peoples.
    4. The Government's
      current framework is oppositional in its approach and sets up Indigenous
      peoples as competitors of government.

      There is a fear
      in the Government's approach that Indigenous peoples are going to usurp
      control and power over matters which they believe more appropriately
      belong as responsibilities of government. It is a strange, indeed almost
      paranoid, view of

      It is also, in my view, an unrealistic one that does not accurately
      reflect Indigenous aspirations nor reflect historical reality.

    5. There is no
      general acceptance by the Government of the legitimacy of Indigenous
      peoples being the primary decision makers on matters that affect their
      daily lives
      , and for efforts to build the capacity of Indigenous
      communities being directed at this aim.

    Overall, the current
    approach of the Government to Indigenous policy formulation is introverted
    and myopic. It is unwilling to build on international developments or
    to accept that at core we are dealing with problems in relation to Indigenous
    peoples that are being faced globally. The current Australian approach
    is at the most conservative end of the spectrum internationally.

    True self-determination
    requires communities to marginalise the role of government in the functioning
    of their communities. It is a perversion that governments continue
    to exercise almost total control over many Indigenous communities. It
    is not a normal functioning of those communities or of government. We
    must continue to challenge the narrowness of the approach of the government.
    Communities must also not be discouraged from seeking their own resolutions
    to the problems that they face as communities. They must continue to reclaim
    self-determination from the government.

    Underlying the Government's
    concern about Indigenous control is a notion of loss of accountability.
    Central to the principle of self-determination is a notion of responsibility.
    Indigenous communities must be accountable for their decision making
    and expenditure.

    Issues of accountability,
    however, run two ways - accountability to the funding agency and government,
    and accountability to the community who are intended to benefit from
    the programme or policy intervention that is made. At present, there
    is a real imbalance with limited accountability back to Indigenous communities
    (and to the community as a whole).

    Ultimately, however,
    concern about ensuring adequate lines of accountability is not a
    reason for not engaging in a substantial process of involving Indigenous
    people in decision making and programme design and management. It is
    a reason to do so on an agreed basis, with a clear understanding as
    to accountability and monitoring requirements.

    Indigenous women in the criminal
    justice system (Chapter 5)

    This chapter provides
    a broad overview of issues that Indigenous women face in criminal justice
    processes. Due to the general dearth of research and statistics it is
    necessarily broad in its focus, and points to areas requiring follow up
    action and further investigation. Despite these limitations, what is
    clear is that there is a crisis in the level and type of contact of Indigenous
    women with correctional systems in Australia. There is insufficient attention
    devoted to their circumstances when in custody and insufficient attention
    to the environmental factors which contribute to their being in custody
    at all. Indigenous women indeed live in 'a landscape of risk' and suffer
    at the crossroads of race and gender.

    • Indigenous women
      are currently incarcerated at a rate higher than any other group in
    • While Indigenous
      men face unacceptably high rates of incarceration, the rate for Indigenous
      women is significantly higher and is rising at a faster rate.
    • The over-representation
      of Indigenous women occurs in the context of intolerably high levels
      of family violence, over-policing for selected offences, ill-health,
      unemployment and poverty.
    • Studies of Indigenous
      women in prison reveal experiences of life in a society fraught with
      danger from violence.
    • The consequences
      to the community of the removal of Indigenous women are significant
      and potentially expose children to risk of neglect, abuse, hunger and
    • Indigenous women
      also serve comparatively shorter sentences, suggesting a general failure
      to employ the principle of imprisonment as a last resort. Once imprisoned,
      recidivism statistics also indicate that Indigenous women are at greater
      risk of returning to gaol.

    A statistical overview of
    Indigenous women in corrections

    a) Rates of
    incarceration of Indigenous women:
    The number
    of Indigenous women incarcerated has increased from 104 in 1991 to 370 Indigenous
    women in 2001. This represents an increase of 255.8% over the decade. Similarly,
    rates of over-representation of Indigenous women are higher than for Indigenous
    men. For the June 2002 quarter, Indigenous women were over-represented at
    19.6 times the non-Indigenous rate compared to Indigenous men at 15.2 times.

    • In New South
      , Indigenous women represented 30 percent of the total female
      population in custody in October 2002 despite constituting only 2 percent
      of the female population of the state.
    • In Queensland,
      the growth of Indigenous female offenders in Queensland secure and open
      custody over the five year period from 1994 -1999 was 204 per cent,
      compared with an increase of 173 per cent for all female offenders in
      Queensland over the same period. In February 2001, Indigenous women
      represented 28.2 per cent of the total female population in Queensland
      open and secure centres.
    • In Victoria,
      of the 4886 prisoners received into Victorian prisons in the 2000-01
      period, only 539 were women. Nevertheless, while female representation
      is low overall, Indigenous women are over-represented, constituting
      8% of all female prisoners.
    • In Western
      , reception data shows that for the period 1 July 2001
      to 30 June 2002, Aboriginal women represented 51.7 per cent of all women
      received into prison despite constituting 3.2 per cent of the female
      population of Western Australia.
    • In the Northern
      , Indigenous women constituted 57 percent of the total
      female prison population (they are 26 per cent of the female population
      of the Territory).

    b) Recidivism
    rates among Indigenous women:
    National statistical data indicates
    that nearly 3 in every 4 (76 percent) of all Indigenous prisoners had
    been previously imprisoned. Recidivism rates for Indigenous compared to
    non-Indigenous women are higher in all jurisdictions.

    c) Types of crime
    committed by Indigenous women:
    Statistics on crimes committed by Indigenous
    women indicate that there is a considerable degree of variation in criminal
    behaviour across jurisdictions and within regions. There is also a steady
    and significant increase in most categories of offences. Thus, there were
    100% more Indigenous women in prison for homicide related offences in
    2001 than 1994, 127% more for assault and related offences, 440% more
    for robbery, and so on. The increases were reasonably comparable across
    many offence categories, although of particular significance has been
    the increase in imprisonment for robbery offences, which outstripped all
    other changes.

    Nationally, Indigenous
    women comprise nearly 80% of all cases where women are detained in police
    custody for public drunkenness. Similarly, by comparison to non-Indigenous
    women, Indigenous women are more likely to be incarcerated for violence.
    There has been a past general trend of low numbers of Indigenous people
    imprisoned for drug offences. However, survey data from New South Wales
    and Victoria indicate wide use of drugs including narcotics. A further
    significant factor in the incarceration of Indigenous women is fine defaulting.

    d) Over-policing:
    A further concern about Indigenous women's contact with criminal justice
    processes relates to the potential over-policing of Indigenous women.
    For example, in New South Wales, the Select Committee into the Increase
    in Prison Population found in 2001 that the most significant contributing
    factor to increases in the rates of incarceration of Indigenous women
    was the increase in the remand population. There was no evidence to suggest
    that an in increase in actual crime accounted for the prison increase,
    although increases in police activity and changes in judicial attitudes
    to sentencing were also important.

    e) Sentencing
    patterns for Indigenous women:
    Indigenous women tend to receive shorter
    sentences than non-Indigenous women. General rates of over-representation
    tend to indicate that Indigenous women are not being provided with non-custodial
    sentencing options. Shorter sentences also appear to be linked to high
    rates of incarceration for public order offences.

    f) Characteristics
    of Indigenous women who are imprisoned:
    In general Indigenous women
    in gaol are slightly younger than non-Indigenous women. There are no national
    figures for Indigenous women prisoners with children, but a majority of
    incarcerated women are mothers. Indigenous women also often enter custody
    with poor physical or mental health. Research in Victoria has revealed
    that many women self harm soon after release from prison. This includes
    drug overdose & other types of self harm. In NSW in comparison to a non-Indigenous
    woman, an Aboriginal woman is:

    • Four times more
      likely to be murdered;
    • More than twice
      as likely to be the victim of sexual assault, or sexual assault against
    • Four times more
      likely to be a victim of assault;
    • Seven times more
      likely to be a victim of grievous bodily harm.

    Accompanying these
    factors is a strong argument that Aboriginal women receive poor responses
    from police to complaints about violence and other disturbances.

    Experiences of Indigenous
    women in corrections

    there are limits on the statistics that are available on Indigenous women
    in corrections, there is sufficient data to indicate serious problems
    underlying Indigenous women's contact with corrections. The reasons derive
    in part from a combination of the ongoing impact of colonisation on the
    culture, laws and traditions of Indigenous communities, poverty and other
    forms of socio-economic disadvantage. This manifests in many ways including
    alcohol and drug use, homelessness and violence. Research has identified
    a strong correlation between imprisonment of Indigenous women and the
    experience of sexual assault and separation from family. The impact of
    alcohol related crime, and increasingly in some jurisdictions, drug related
    crime requires further investigation.

    Indigenous women
    in corrections experience:

    • Disruption
      to family life:
      The imprisonment of Indigenous women impacts on
      the women, children and community who remain to take care of the children.
    • Pregnancy:
      Indigenous women in detention often present with compromised health.
      When these women give birth their children may require hospitalisation
      in intensive care units until they are stabilised.
    • Provision of
      health care:
      Where women are treated in hospitals outside the correctional
      facility, it is important to prove a standard of care which meets requirements
      for privacy. Protocols between the correctional institution and hospital
      for dealing with inmates could prevent this experience for women. A
      secure area where women could be received and treated within the hospital
      may alleviate some of the problems.
    • Visits with
      Family and Friends:
      Families are often not aware of the exact location
      of prisoners, or of conditions attached to visits. The need for liaison
      officers to reach communities with information about their incarcerated
      family members is stressed.
    • Disruption
      to cultural responsibilities and dislocation from community:
      individual woman's sense of shame can be a powerful block to accessing
      vital support. In some instances women may also be facing payback and
      may not tell authorities about it, and may become itinerant as a result.
    • Dislocation
      from Services:
      Indigenous women experience dislocation from services
      as a result of incarceration. This may be experienced as loss of housing
      and loss of medical or dental programs among others. Indigenous women
      in remote communities suffer particular dislocation from services.
    • Housing:
      Chronic homelessness and the loss of accommodation due to incarceration
      creates one of the most urgent needs of Indigenous women post-release.

    Election driven law
    and order campaigns primed to drive up incarceration, a lack of government
    action to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal
    Deaths in Custody and lack of judicial activism to implement the recommendations
    of the Royal Commission on non custodial sentences are some obvious and
    ongoing causes of over representation.

    Criminal conduct
    by Indigenous women must be viewed as a symptom and offenders as the casualties
    of colonisation. Links must be drawn and holistic models developed and
    supported which address the connections between culture, drug use, alcohol
    use, separation from family, violence, poverty, spiritual needs, housing,
    health, boredom, race discrimination and gender discrimination.

    Indigenous women
    are disadvantaged by the lack of services designed for them. This is an
    example of intersectional discrimination. It is a consequence of a rights
    and policy structure which identifies groups of needs and rights holders
    such as women and Indigenous people, but fails to provide for the needs
    of people who dwell at the intersection of these groups.

    There is an increasing
    understanding of the vulnerability of Indigenous women to the impact of
    a lack of post-release resources. Evidence indicates that women are at
    serious risk of self-harm and harm from others in the period immediately
    after incarceration. It is important that rehabilitation be undertaken
    in prison and continued on release.

    Issues that pre-
    and post-release programs need to address include:

    • Housing issues:
      Housing has been identified as the most important basic need of
      women leaving gaols. Some women may be able to access public housing,
      but this needs to be in place before their release date. Transition
      accommodation is perhaps the most important service for women, especially
      if they have children.
    • Dealing with
      Effective pre and post release programs should include
      community based, Indigenous specific programs to help women deal with
      the effects of violence and to help women develop alternative strategies
      for coping with violence in the future. People require protection from
      violent behaviour and alternative structures for prevention and punishment
      of violent behaviour which provide more than imprisonment with all its
      risks and consequences.
    • Children and
      Women need support to maintain contact with their children
      while they are incarcerated. Where that is not possible, they need to
      be provided with information as to the well being of their children.
      Women need support when they resume contact with their children. They
      need practical advice on how to deal with family court procedures and
      departments of community services.
    • Kinship Obligations:
      Aboriginal women in custody are ever-conscious of the impact their
      absence has on the day to day lives of their families and children.
      This creates stress on them during the period of their custodial sentence,
      and creates additional stresses on them when they return home. Programs
      which are sensitive to the kinship obligations of Indigenous women
      and supportive of these roles are important. Indigenous women have
      identified help with family and community relationships as an issue
      they want help with.

      Some women may
      face another form of dispossession because of the impact of violent
      relationships on their lives. They may not be able to return to their
      home community, as a result of their own or other people's violence.
      In either scenario, women need support to re-enter potentially volatile
      situations. Pre- and post-release programs need to be sensitive to
      kinship obligations, and to support Indigenous women to work with
      their customary obligations and to positively re-integrate into the
      community in which they will live.

    • Financial Issues,
      Employment, Education and Training:
      There is an absence of consistent
      data in relation to educational background of prisoners available. On
      the issue of employment and education programs within the prison Margaret
      Cameron of the Australian Institute of Criminology notes that 'no formal
      consideration has been given to the needs of ATSI women.' A recent survey
      of NSW women noted that 84% of the women said they would like to work
      on release.
    • Access to health
      The high incidence of health problems among Aboriginal
      women is an indicator that pre and post release programs should target
      the health needs of Aboriginal women. The high incidence of deaths in
      custody attributable to natural causes indicates an urgent need for
      better health care while in custody, and better health care on release.
      There is also a specific need to address drug abuse among Indigenous

    International approach of
    the Government to Indigenous issues (Chapter 6)

    The International
    Decade of the World's Indigenous People
    began on 10 December 1994
    and runs until 9 December 2004. Chapter 6 of the report surveys current
    developments in Indigenous rights at the international level within the
    context of the objectives of the International Decade.

    There are still two
    years remaining in the International Decade for the World's Indigenous
    People. There have been some significant achievements in the Decade to
    date, most importantly the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous
    Issues and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the situation and
    fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people. These mechanisms, however,
    continue to face serious issues relating to their capacity and budget.

    the extraordinary variety of achievements in the recognition of Indigenous
    rights and the participation of Indigenous peoples at the international
    level over the past thirty years there remains a great distance to be
    travelled for international law to provide full and non-discriminatory
    recognition of Indigenous peoples' rights and for the objectives of the
    International Decade to be met ... Indigenous peoples remain greatly concerned
    at the overall lack of achievement during the Decade to date and at the
    fragile status of those measures that have been realised.

    The Australian government
    plays an active and vital role at the United Nations on issues related
    to the protection and promotion of Indigenous human rights. The Government
    has made a positive contribution in supporting the establishment and funding
    of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The report, however, expresses
    concern at the Government's approach in international forums on Indigenous
    issues whereby they have:

    • opposed recognition
      of self-determination for Indigenous peoples, and accordingly have contributed
      to the unacceptable lack of progress in negotiations on a draft Declaration
      on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
    • Argued for the
      dismantling of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations at the UN,
      and withheld any funding contributions to UN activities relating to
      Indigenous issues while the Working Group continues to exist.

    The report makes
    3 recommendations to the Government relating to its approach to
    Indigenous issues at the international level. These are that the Government:

    • Continue to support
      the provision of adequate resourcing from the United Nation's Regular
      Budget to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues;
    • Contribute funding
      to activities of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (and for ATSIC
      to match the Government's contribution); and
    • support the continued
      existence of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations and seek to
      strengthen its mandate and role.

    March 2003.