17 December 2014 | General Interest
The annual Social Justice Report from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, which was tabled in Federal Parliament in November 2014, examines a number of key social justice issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.
The Social Justice and Native Title Report 2014 discusses the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, outlines developments in justice reinvestment in Australia, and explores the important role Nation building plays in developing stronger communities and more meaningful engagement.
A key theme of the report is nations and Nation building processes that will enhance the capacities of Indigenous nations for self-governance and self-determined economic development, such as establishing an Assembly of First Nations.
“Nation building sees governance traditions and processes working from a basis for respect for culture, and cultural authority, allowing communities to decide what structures are legitimate and representative for them,” Mr Gooda said.
The report also provides an overview of the year with respect to social justice and native title issues. The report states changes made by the Federal Government this year to Indigenous Affairs occurred without meaningful engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and their respective organisations. The upheaval of Indigenous Affairs programs and activities involving over 1400 organisations has created a “muddled narrative”. The Commissioner argues that the more drastic the budget cuts, the more engagement is needed with our communities and representatives.
The Commissioner also reflects on healing and the need for the Government to address the physical and psychological experiences of the Stolen Generations to validate current experiences of trauma. The decision of Collard v Western Australia this year denies that a policy of assimilation was in effect at the time the children were taken in the 1950s and early 1960s. The report urges the Government to prioritise effective reparations for the Stolen Generations and their families before the opportunity is lost to history.
The report also explores the proposed changes to the racial vilification provisions in ss 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. The RDA remains a useful tool to combat racial hatred through the complaints mechanism and legal action. The proposed changes announced in March 2014 raised a number of concerns for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and groups that are vulnerable to the impacts of racial discrimination. The draft bill has been withdrawn but the Commissioner urges that any future discussions should include extensive community consultation.
Overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justices system is discussed in the report as one of the most glaring disparities and human rights issues facing Australia. The report outlines developments in justice reinvestment in Australia, such as the newly formed National Justice Coalition, and looks at the challenges for implementing justice reinvestment based on Australian context and international experience. The Commissioner recommends that the Government adopt a justice reinvestment approach and implement justice targets as a matter of priority. The Commissioner echoes previous recommendations that justice targets should also address indicators such as involvement with the child protection system in connection with rates of imprisonment.
The Commissioner notes that given the extent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander overrepresentation in the criminal justice and child protection systems that our organisations best placed to provide vital legal and advocacy services, such as the Aboriginal an Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, are the ones that are most affected by cuts in the budgetary measures. The absence of clarity about how the proposed budget measures will be implemented and the uncertainty for our services and organisations is a matter of considerable concern.