A Bill introduced by Federal Greens senator Lidia Thorpe to bring Australian law into line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples could offer protection to Aboriginal heritage, supporters say.
Ms Thorpe, a Gunnai, Gunditjmara and DjabWurrung woman, described the Bill as the first step towards implementing the Declaration into Australia’s laws, policies and practice.
Significantly, the Senate also passed a motion to establish an inquiry into the application of the Declaration.
Ms Thorpe said Australian governments had been making decisions “about us, without us” for too long.
“Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will put First Nations people back in the driver’s seat, so we can control our own destiny,” she said.
“The Declaration… is about First Nations people having the final say on First Nations affairs. It’s about protecting our right to free, prior and informed consent on what happens to our Country, our culture and our people.”
When the UN General Assembly voted on the declaration in 2007, Australia was one of only four of 147 countries to oppose it.
In 2009 the Rudd Government adopted the Declaration, but did not take any action to implement its principles in Australia.
In July 2017, while bidding for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, the Australian government pledged to support the Declaration, but no mention was made in any Closing the Gap reports until late 2021.
“Senator Payne said in 2007 that something as important as the UNDRIP should not be rushed. For 15 years, successive governments have failed to act,” Ms Thorpe said.
Viliwarinha Yura Aboriginal Corporation member Regina McKenzie has been fighting to protect areas on the traditional lands of the Kuyani and Adnyamathanha people in the western Flinders Ranges, where drilling and other works were carried out despite assessments having found significant sites and artefacts.
“I believe if we get the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples made into law here in Australia it would give recognition to our cultural heritage rights, our beliefs,” she said.
“Australia was a diverse country before colonisation, the land of many nations and diverse cultural aspects. This declaration talks about the rights of our nationalities. I am a Yuratu. That is something we want recognised.
“We ourselves have been saying we need this in for a long time. I have been lobbying a lot of politicians, state and federal, trying to get the UN declaration put into effect.”
Ms McKenzie said there was no real protection to stop events like the destruction of Juukan Gorge.