1. Formal recognition of the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to self-determination within the life of the nation.
2. Improved political participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples aspirations for Self-determination
When Australia was colonised, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples occupied the entire continent, with their own political and legal and social systems. Yet, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples never had the opportunity to participate in the nation-building surrounding federation. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, however, the need to negotiate this relationship is central to their aspirations. It is often referred to in terms of self-determination.
The meaning of self-determination is often confused by references to secession and separate statehood, but such references are unfairly inflammatory and do not reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aspirations. Self-determination is much more about the process of decision-making. It reflects the need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to negotiate a relationship with the Australian government, which may lead to many outcomes that have the potential to enhance rather then undermine our sense of national unity. It also reflects the kind of autonomy and decision-making that is already being exercised by communities who take responsibility for the delivery of services or programs. That is, self-determination is reflected in the recognition by governments of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples right to exercise a sphere of authority and responsibility and the communities' exercise of that right.
In international law self-determination is 'the right of all peoples to freely determine their political status and to pursue their own economic, social and cultural development'. It has its origins in the theory of self-government--that a society should be able to determine for themselves how they are to be governed and to make the decisions that directly affect them.
The right to self-determination is a fundamental principle of international human rights and is included as the first Article of both the United Nations International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the ICCPR and ICESCR). It is often associated with the relationship between states in the international sphere but it also has many other facets that operate within nation states, particularly where countries are made up of a number of different peoples. In recent years, it has been specifically acknowledged that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should freely exercise this right.
Australia has a sophisticated approach to the division of authority and responsibility to various levels of government in our federal structure as well as through our system of local government. With respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, too, there are some models of self-determination and empowerment already existing in Australia, for example in the Torres Strait or in the system of Local Aboriginal Councils, where regional self-government is evolving.
The Council supports self-determination as the guiding principle for government policy on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs at all levels.
Actions for implementation
A. Governments at all levels acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' right to self-determination as the basis for policy on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs.
B. Governments at all levels enter into negotiations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in order to realise self-determination goals.
C. Commonwealth government, ATSIC and Reconciliation Australia work together to promote discussion and education on the meaning of self-determination in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
In Australia, as in international law, it is recognised that every citizen of a country has a fundamental right to take part in the conduct of public affairs within the nation. This right is referred to as effective political participation. All Australian citizens have this right. The right to effective political participation is fundamental to the right of self-determination enjoyed by all Australians. Effective political participation, in this sense is about the process by which governments obtain legitimacy for their decisions and outcomes. It extends from ensuring the right to vote, to ensuring relevant groups in the community are consulted and in some instances included in negotiations about government decisions.
For a long time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples could not fully take part in the political process because many did not even have the right to vote until the 1960s. Having secured this fundamental right, effective participation was further advanced by the 1967 referendum which included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the census and removed a discriminatory reference to Aboriginal people from the Constitution. Full citizenship rights have only been realised for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the wake of the 1967 referendum.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples now directly elect all members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and the Commissioners elect the Chairperson. ATSIC plays an essential role in providing policy advice to the Commonwealth government on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues including proposals for legislation and ensuring the effective delivery of programs for which it is given responsibility.
It is necessary for all governments in Australia to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have equal rights to effectively participate in public life and that no decisions directly relating to their rights and interests are taken without their agreement. This means governments must engage in effective negotiations with representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples before making decisions or passing legislation which may fundamentally interfere with their rights to lead lives of dignity, to preserve their culture, to share equitably in the benefits of national growth and to play their part in the government of the country.
Also, where governments make the laws and regulations affecting the day-to-day lives of all Australians, the voices and views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians should be equitably represented.
Despite the ATSIC experience, there continues to be extremely low direct participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Commonwealth, State, Territory or local government. To this end, the Council recommends further community discussion and education on the full range of options to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander political representation.
The Council also urges all political parties to introduce measures that will increase the involvement and representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in their discussion and selection processes, and ultimately in the parliaments. The Council also urges both local governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to build on recent trends within Aboriginal Local Councils for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to seek election to local councils and to take an active part in local government.
Actions for implementation
A. Commonwealth, State and Territory governments conduct parliamentary inquiries, where they have not done so, into options to address the lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in their political systems.
B. Reconciliation Australia develop public education campaigns about options for improving representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in parliaments and local governments.
C. Local governments and political parties seek the advice and assistance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to support nomination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons to stand for election, particularly in areas with significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.
D. The Commonwealth government continue to promote the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voter education programs through the Australian Electoral Commission and other relevant organisations