Last Updated: Monday, 22 September 2014, 14:17 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Australia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Australia, 16 July 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a66d9c1c.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

On every index of human needs Australia's 0.5 million indigenous people continue to fare worse than other Australians. In 2008 the indigenous rate of imprisonment was 13 times higher than for the non-indigenous. Life expectancy for indigenous citizens was 59 for males and 65 for females, compared with 77 and 82 respectively for non-indigenous; indigenous persons were twice as likely to be hospitalized as other citizens; indigenous citizens were more than twice as likely as their non-indigenous counterparts to die from alcohol abuse; and the indigenous infant mortality rate is three times higher than the Australian national average.

Despite an Aboriginal woman becoming the highest-ranking indigenous member of government in the country's history when she was appointed Northern Territory (NT) deputy chief minister in 2007, Aboriginals remain generally under-represented among the political leadership.

In February 2008, the Rudd government carried through on its promise of a formal apology to Aboriginals for the 'stolen generation' of indigenous children snatched from their parents, passing an apology motion through parliament unanimously. Aboriginal leaders welcomed the development, although many expressed disappointment that the apology was not accompanied by compensation.

Rudd announced a series of measures intended to close the 17-year life expectancy gap between Aborigines and other Australians. However, these included maintaining the Howard government's draconian measures (the Northern Territory Emergency Response – NTER) against child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory, introduced in June 2007. Some Aboriginal leaders decried the policies as racist and, in June 2008, threatened to block tourist access to Uluru, which is on Aboriginal lands. Later in the year the NTER Review Board called for the legislation to be made consistent with Australia's Racial Discrimination Act and for the act's protections to be re-instated immediately.

In October 2008 the federal government agreed to make resources available for job training for Aboriginals under an 'Australian employment covenant' signed by business and Aboriginal leaders, with a goal of creating 50,000 jobs for indigenous citizens. However the global economic downturn has sparked fears among Aboriginal leaders that promises of investment in communities would not be honoured.

There were a number of significant land rights cases during 2008, with differing outcomes for Aboriginals. In April the federal court overturned a 2006 decision by a federal court judge recognizing native title of the Nyoongar Aboriginal group over a large portion of south-western Western Australia, including the state capital of Perth. The state and federal governments had appealed the original decision. The case was referred back to a federal court judge for another hearing. The High Court of Australia recognized the Yolngu people's exclusive possession rights over the intertidal zone along 80 per cent of the Northern Territory coastline. Rights groups praised the decision, which will give Aboriginals a stake in the development of a sustainable commercial fishing industry.

In May 2008 the government announced it would review the Native Title process, with a view to reducing its complexity and ensuring that royalties indigenous communities received from the mining industry were used beneficially.

Violence against Aboriginal women remains a serious problem. According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics they were 40 times more likely to be victims of family violence compared with non-indigenous women. This figure is thought to be artificially low; domestic violence in indigenous communities is widely believed to be under-reported due to mistrust of the authorities and the remoteness of Aboriginal settlements. On 13 June 2008, the Court of Appeals upheld the Queensland state attorney general's appeal against the sentences imposed by a lower court on nine defendants who pleaded guilty to the 2006 gang rape of a developmentally disabled 10-year-old indigenous girl in her community of Aurukun in the Cape York area. None of the nine defendants originally received prison sentences. As a result of the appeal of the original sentences, the Court of Appeals sentenced five of the nine defendants to prison terms.

Education

Current statistics show worrying disparities in education indicators for indigenous and non-indigenous students. High levels of disadvantage in indigenous children's early childhood years are associated with poorer outcomes in health and education. Without preschool learning opportunities, indigenous students are likely to be behind from their first year of formal schooling. While most indigenous students in metropolitan and regional areas meet the minimum reading standards, the percentage of students achieving at least the minimum standard of literacy and numeracy skills decreases as the level of remoteness increases. In 2007, only 42.9 per cent of indigenous 17-year-olds attended secondary school, compared with 65 per cent of non-indigenous 17-year-olds. Research suggests that students who do not complete this level of education will have much reduced levels of employment and economic independence. Compared with the general population, unemployment among the Aboriginal population is three times higher than for non-indigenous Australians.

Kevin Rudd's government allocated A$98 million to add 200 teachers to the Northern Territory by 2011. However, observers noted that the initiative falls far short of the measures necessary to bring Northern Territory indigenous education to mainstream standards.

The right to education in mother tongue continues to be violated in Australia. Indigenous literacy outcomes are directly related to Aboriginals' access to their own culture, history and languages, and books in indigenous languages for students whose first language is not English, are rare. The Northern Territory government recently announced a move towards a more 'English-only' form of education, which represents a patent breach of the right of indigenous peoples to some form of education in their own languages where practicable.

Some Muslim leaders claimed that anti-Islamic sentiment in the country was increasing in the wake of public debate about the integration of Muslim immigrants into society. Groups questioned the motivations for refusing planning permission for two Islamic schools by local councils in New South Wales and Queensland.

In February 2008 the family of a Sikh youth filed a complaint with the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission. The student was barred from enrolment in a Brisbane private school because his turban violated the school's dress code.

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