University of Minnesota

Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of
Racial Discrimination, Australia, U.N. Doc. A/49/18, paras. 535-551 (1994).



Forty-fifth session


Concluding observations of the Committee on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination


535. At its 1067th meeting, on 18 August 1994, the Committee adopted the following concluding observations.

(a) Positive aspects

536. The State party is commended for its regularity in fulfilling its reporting obligations and for the seriousness with which its takes its obligations under the Convention. Appreciation is expressed for the quality of the report, which has been prepared in accordance with the Committee's guidelines for the preparation of State party reports, as well as for the comprehensiveness of the additional information submitted to the Committee prior to and in the course of the discussion.

537. Appreciation is also expressed for the opportunity to engage in a frank, serious and extremely constructive dialogue with a delegation led by the responsible minister. He was accompanied by the Social Justice Commissioner (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission), himself from Australia's indigenous population and the holder of an independent post. The Commissioner was present to provide information in reply to questions raised and to mention matters on which he had his own views. Members of the Committee highly commend the composition of the delegation, describing it as an example to be followed by other reporting States.

538. Satisfaction is expressed for the numerous measures taken in Australia, since the consideration of the previous report, to improve relations between all groups and in particular the situation of Aboriginal people. The Government's efforts to establish a multicultural society in Australia, despite some opposition, is welcomed. Note is taken, in that regard, of various programmes and strategies, such as the Access and Equity Strategy, the National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia and the Community Relations Agenda, which provide a framework designed to encourage different cultural groups to share their distinctive heritage and seek to ensure that all Australians enjoy equality of treatment and opportunity in all spheres of public life. The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991 is welcomed as a measure of great potential interest.

539. The broad responsibilities and powers of the Commonwealth Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in the implementation of the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 and in conducting public inquiries into human rights matters are noted with particular satisfaction. The activities of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and the transfer of certain specific responsibilities to the Torres Strait Regional Authority are noted with appreciation. The noteworthy conclusions and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the consequent establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Social Justice Commissioner are also welcomed.

540. The attention paid by the judiciary to the implementation of the Convention is particularly appreciated. The decisions of the High Court of Australia in Mabo v. Queensland constitute a very significant development. It is noted with satisfaction that the decision rejected the proposition that Australia was terra nullius at the time of colonial settlement and recognized the survival of native title to land where this title had not been validly extinguished. The Commonwealth Government's follow-up in its Native Title Act 1993 and the establishment of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Fund are also welcomed.

541. The readiness of the Commonwealth Government to show leadership in securing a better implementation of the Convention is much appreciated. For example, it is likely to use its influence to see that police training is improved with respect to the avoidance of racial discrimination.

(b) Principal subjects of concern

542. It is noted with concern that, although the Commonwealth Government is responsible for ratifying international human rights instruments, the implementation of their provisions requires the active participation of states and territories which have almost exclusive jurisdiction over many of the matters covered by the Convention and cannot be compelled to change their laws. Programmes and strategies designed, at the federal level, to promote reconciliation and social justice and to address the problems associated with Aboriginal deaths in custody, could be jeopardized by lack of cooperation from state or territory governments. The Committee will follow with concern any relevant developments in the relations between the governments in Australia.

543. The situation of the Aboriginal and Torres Islander people remains a subject of concern, despite efforts aimed at remedying the injustices inherited from the past. Concern is expressed that Aboriginals continue to die in custody at a rate comparable to that which led to the appointment of the Royal Commission.

544. Legal proceedings for the recognition of native title and for responding to land claims have been protracted. The necessity for claimants to prove that they have maintained their connection with the land and that their title has not been extinguished can be an exigent condition. That persons who identify as Aboriginal but whose ancestors are predominantly non-Aboriginal may not qualify as Aboriginal with respect to land rights may become a further matter of concern. Only a very small percentage of the Aboriginal population will benefit under the Native Title Act.

545. Aboriginals continue to suffer disadvantage in such areas as education, employment, housing and health services. Their participation in the conduct of public affairs is disappointing. It is, once again, noted with concern that, according to various social indicators, Aboriginals are more deeply affected by social problems such as alcoholism, drug abuse, delinquency and incarceration than any other social group in the country.

546. The situation of members of other, non-English-speaking, minorities, particularly refugees or asylum-seekers, as regards enjoyment of their rights and freedoms under article 5 of the Convention is also a matter of concern. Immigrants from the African and Asian regions seem, according to non-governmental sources, not to be adequately protected against discrimination.

(c) Suggestions and recommendations

547. The Committee recommends that Australia pursue an energetic policy of recognizing Aboriginal rights and furnishing adequate compensation for the discrimination and injustice of the past. The Commonwealth Government should undertake appropriate measures to ensure a harmonious application of the provisions of the Convention at the federal and state or territory levels. The recommendations adopted by various bodies entrusted with the protection of Aboriginal rights - the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission - should be fully implemented by all those concerned, particularly state and territory governments.

548. The Committee recommends the strengthening of measures to remedy any discrimination suffered by members of non-English-speaking minorities and Aboriginals in the fields of the administration of justice, education, employment, housing and health services and to promote the participation of all in the conduct of political affairs. Law enforcement officials should receive more effective training to ensure that in the performance of their duties they respect as well as protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all. Similarly, the State party should continue to strengthen its education and training programmes. The Committee hopes to receive more information on these matters, particularly with respect to non-English-speaking minorities, in Australia's next periodic report.

549. The Committee recommends that the State party adopt appropriate legislation with a view to withdrawing its reservation to article 4 (a) of the Convention.

550. The Committee recommends that the report submitted by the State party to the Committee and the concluding comments of the Committee be disseminated as widely as possible in Australia in order to encourage the involvement of all sectors concerned in the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination.

551. The Committee draws the attention of the State party to the amendment to article 8, paragraph 6, of the Convention, which was approved by the fifteenth meeting of States parties and by the General Assembly in its resolution 47/111, and encourages the State party to expedite its action formally to accept that amendment.



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