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MP calls for Aboriginal treaty at legal opening

MP calls for Aboriginal treaty at legal opening

By Carolyn Ford

Human Rights Justice 


Indigenous disadvantage, in particular the historically high incarceration rates of Aboriginal men, women and children, was the focus of the community opening of the legal year hosted by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) at the County Court this week.

Guest speaker Lidia Thorpe, the Member for Northcote and the state’s first Aboriginal woman MP, called for a treaty, created by the 100 remaining clans in Victoria, that honours the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“The treaty the state government is talking about is not in line with that,” said Ms Thorpe.

“It is very hard for me to talk about justice with a positive perspective. There is a lot of goodwill and ideals but I think the answer is with the clans who must determine what is best for them to heal and go forward.

“You watch the gap close. We don’t want handouts … we want what we are entitled to because this is our country. I will keep saying it until it happens. Truth and justice is the only way we can move forward in this country and stop the horrendous statistics.”

Aboriginal Australians make up 2.5 per cent of the population, yet comprise 28 per cent of the prison population, according to Judge Paul Grant, judge-in-charge of the Koori Court of Victoria, who spoke at the opening about Indigenous disadvantage and the Koori Court.

Aboriginal people suffer more ill health, die younger, have higher rates of infant mortality, are over-represented in the courts, jails and child protection system, have lower levels of education and income, higher rates of unemployment and poorer housing conditions, he said.

Judge Grant said to successfully address the issue of prison over-representation, underlying issues driving it needed to be addressed with programs and practices and also appropriate funding.

He said a measure of the Koori Court’s impact was the more than 100 Aboriginal elders and respected persons as well as many others working in the justice system.

Ms Thorpe said there were more jobs in the justice space because the statistics were so bad. There needed to be more emphasis on preventative measures for Aboriginal people.

“It’s very close to my heart. We all live with some sort of mental health disorder because we have had to live with oppression and racism every day for the last 230 years and that takes a toll on every Aboriginal person in this country.”

At the ICJ event, lawyer Daniel Webb was announced the recipient of the John Gibson Award, which recognises a prominent advocate for human rights and/or refugee interests.

Mr Webb is the Human Rights Law Centre’s director of legal advocacy and leads the centre’s work defending the rights of refugees and people seeing asylum. Mr Webb’s recent work includes High Court challenges to the federal government’s offshore detention regime and its detention of 157 people at sea beneath the deck of a customs ship.

He also led the #LetThemStay and #BringThemHere campaigns and has travelled to Manus Island three times to investigate and expose conditions on the ground.

In 2010, Mr Webb was awarded the LIV President’s Award for his outstanding work for human rights and social justice.

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