I have long held the view that the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia is self-defeating. Belonging to the same landscape; bound together in territorial respect for the aspirations, life and memory of our own constituents; surely it can be agreed that the dislocation of indigenous peoples from their living cultural landscape is as abhorrent as the eviction of non-indigenous Australians from Australia.
Nevertheless, Australia had little choice but to refuse to ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by its General Assembly last week.
ABC News quotes Prime Minister Howard as saying, “We do not support the notion that you should have customary law taking priority over the general law of the country.”
Upon closer consideration, however, elements of the declaration reveal far more insurmountable implications.
Article 28 (in particular):
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, of a just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.
2. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.
When the High Court ruled that native title and pastoral lease could co-exist, we saw the federal parliament amend the Native Title Act to provide greater certainty to pastoral interests and effectively rewrite history against indigenous interests.
For Australia, the implications of Article 28 alone, is insupportable. It is a very great shame that the Declaration was framed in such a manner, when so much of it stood for such gain.