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UN urges Australia to commit to First Nations rights


By Estelle Sanchez

Australia appeared on the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday (8) to present a formal response to the recommendations received during the third cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

The outcome puts a spotlight on Indigenous rights. The UN Law Council called on Australia to commit to a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the Constitution, as called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Law Council President, Dr Jacoba Brasch QC, said a referendum is needed as soon as possible and, importantly, “prior to legislating the Voice”.

“It is important that the Voice have legitimacy and authority with First Nations peoples if it is to fulfil its promise as a truly representative and effective body.

“ First Nations peoples must also be assured that the Voice is everlasting and respected and that it cannot be abolished by an act of parliament or at the whim of the government of the day,” she said.

The Law Council also mentioned the issues of over-incarceration of First Nations peoples and raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old.

Australia’s statement agreed with a referendum to include an Indigenous Voice in parliament “when a consensus has been reached, and it has the best chance of success”.

The statement was also ensuring Commonwealth law should provide the proper protections for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultural heritage following what happened with the destruction of the Juukan Gorge.

The Juukan Gorge is an important aboriginal site located in the Hamersley Range, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. It is valuable for the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples, as well as archaeological research. Unfortunately, the rock shelters were destroyed in April 2020 by Rio Tinto, a mining company.

Dr Brasch QC said the Law council is currently considering Australia’s statement on the referendum and looks forward to working with the Australian Government to achieve the cultural heritage federal legislation.

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