Implications of a Bill of Rights for Indigenous Australians 


Australians need to build a culture of respect for human rights, was the message of Tom Calma, Commissioner Federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity, at the May Charles Darwin Symposium.

He told attendees, human rights violations can too easily happen in Australia and citizens don’t have any remedy available to them.

‘Human rights are often misused as a political tool, devoid of content,’ said Mr Calma.

‘In other instances people believe the myth that human rights and a Bill of Rights is a tool to give preferential treatment to certain groups of people, such as Indigenous Australians.

‘Some pragmatic Australians see no need for such a formal protection of human rights, believing in and relying on the democratic process to remedy any inequity in human rights,’ he said.

‘This method of democratic remedy doesn’t work though, if you are a member of a minority group, who has little democratic power, such as Indigenous Australians, children and the mentally ill.’

Mr Calma told Symposium delegates Australia has one of the weakest systems for the protection of human rights in the Western world, with Australia implementing less than half the legal obligations of international human rights treaties.

As well as debating if Australia or the Northern Territory should adopt a Bill of Rights, Mr Calma raised this issue of how Indigenous and other minority groups should be represented in a Bill of Rights. One argument is that a Bill of Rights should provide for the protection of human rights of all Australians in a generalist sense. On the other side of the argument some believe there should be some specific references made to the rights of Indigenous people and that of other minority groups.

Mr Calma told Symposium delegates that it was important to recognise Indigenous people as the first people with ongoing traditional ties to the land, territory and recourses and to address inequities that Indigenous people experience as a result of historical treatment.

He said it was important that any Bill of Rights adopted by Australians, at a federal, state or territory level, should provide gender equality, protect the rights of children, recognise equality of all people and provide tools for the accountability of government to all citizens.

He believed a Bill of Rights that achieves this is particularly important to all Australians, in particular to that of Indigenous Australians and other minority groups.

Visit the Symposium website for further information about the event.