Ms Jenny Macklin MP

Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

On 3 April, Australia took another important step in re-setting the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and moving forward towards a new future. On that day, Australia gave its support to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We joined the international community to affirm the aspirations of all Indigenous peoples. Showing our respect for Indigenous peoples,  demonstrating our faith in a new era of relations between states and Indigenous peoples grounded in good faith, goodwill and mutual respect.

The work of drafting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples began in 1985. The Declaration was more than twenty years in the making.
For the first time governments worked directly with Indigenous peoples to develop a significant human rights statement.

The decades of work culminated in a landmark document. A document that reflects and pays homage to the unique place of Indigenous peoples and their entitlement to all human rights as recognised in international law. Indigenous Australians made a significant contribution to the development of the Declaration. They include

  • Les Malezer, Chair of the International Indigenous Peoples' Caucus and a recipient of the Australian Human Rights Medal.
  • Professor Lowitja O'Donoghue, former Australian of the Year and former Chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.
  • Professor Mick Dodson, Australian of the Year, Member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
  • Tom Calma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, and his predecessor, Dr Bill Jonas.
  • Megan Davis, Former United Nations Indigenous Fellow and Director of the Indigenous Law Centre.
  • And many others - too many to name.

It is a testament to the steadfast commitment of the United Nations Working Group that they stayed the course.  Driven by a common purpose to formally articulate international respect for the world's Indigenous peoples. On 17 September 2007, 143 nations voted in support of the Declaration. Australia was one of four countries that voted against the Declaration. Now Australia has changed its position. Now Australia has given its support to the Declaration.

We do this in the spirit of re-setting the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and building trust. The universal aspirations contained in the Declaration can help build understanding and trust. This will take time. Relationships will be tested and will evolve.

The Declaration gives us new impetus to work together in trust and good faith to advance human rights and close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The Declaration recognises the legitimate entitlement of Indigenous people to all human rights - based on principles of equality, partnership, good faith and mutual benefit.

It is another important step to make sure that the flawed policies of the past will never be re-visited.

The Declaration is historic and aspirational.

While it is non-binding and does not affect existing Australian law, it sets important international principles for nations to aspire to.

Australia’s support for the Declaration acknowledges the great privilege all Australians have to live alongside the custodians of the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We recognise the right of Indigenous Australians to practise, revitalise and sustain their cultural, religious and spiritual traditions and customs.

We celebrate the vital positive contribution of Indigenous culture to Australia.

And we honour Indigenous Australians who so generously share their culture, knowledge and traditions.

We pay tribute to them, to their ancestors and the generations to come.

In supporting the Declaration, Australia today takes another important step towards re-setting relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Working together to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Overcoming the legacy of the past and shaping the future together.