COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION
OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION
CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS SUBMITTED BY STATES PARTIES
UNDER ARTICLE 9 OF THE CONVENTION
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
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
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.