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Indigenous Rights Program

The ability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to freely determine their own political, economic, social and cultural development is a fundamental first step towards securing a better future.

We’re committed to helping Indigenous Australians realise their right to self-determination. In a practical sense, it’s about ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are able make decisions about policies and programs that directly affect their lives, and respecting and supporting these decisions.

This is why Oxfam was a signatory to the Redfern Statement during the 2016 Federal election. The Statement came about because of the growing frustration amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in a range of sectors that governments of all persuasions were not listening to Indigenous people.

We have worked with the Kimberley Land Council to highlight the ongoing fight to secure land rights for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley and speak out against the discriminatory practices of the Western Australia Government in relation to proposals to forcibly close remote Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley; changes to the Cultural Heritage Act which would weaken Aboriginal peoples ability to protect their cultural heritage; and the creation of new conservation areas on Aboriginal land that would require people to give up their native title rights.

Strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ influence

We are working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ and organisations to ensure their voices are heard by Australia’s politicians and others in positions of power. And if there isn’t a forum for this to happen, we help to create it. A decade ago Oxfam joined with several Indigenous, not-for-profit and health organisations to form the Close the Gap coalition. This initiative put the stark health inequality of First Australians on the national agenda. In April 2015 we joined with similar groups to launch the Change the Record campaign to reduce the soaring number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system and incarcerated.

And each year we continue to organise regional or and national Straight Talk summits which links bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from around the nation together with female Ministers and parliamentarians to explore ways to advance reconciliation, justice and equality for Indigenous Australians. In 2016 we held our first ever Straight Talk event with the Victorian Local Government Association (VLGA) which brought together Aboriginal women in Victoria interested in local government. We also hosted a National Summit in Canberra.

Supporting a sustainable National Indigenous Representative Body

We believe that independent and well-resourced Aboriginal representation is an essential part of bringing about reconciliation. Following the politically-motivated demise of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was established after an independent Steering Committee designed and led the creation of the organisation. It received widespread support as an entirely Indigenous-driven initiative. We support a national representative body and believe it must be financially sustainable and meet the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

More than ever Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples need an independent representative body that provides fearless advice to the government of the day on policies that will make a difference to the lives of Indigenous Australians.

While we continue to call on the Australian Government to fund Congress as an interim measure, we also support the more recent initiative of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the Referendum Council, to establish a constitutionally-enshrined First Nations Voice to the national Parliament. In the same way, we believe that a process of truth-telling and agreement making is an essential part of national reconciliation and must be supported.

Rights to Resources

The traditional connection to land and waters is inextricably linked to the identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Oxfam has recognised this through its work with groups that are demanding the recognition of their rights to a fair share of the abundant resources that are part of these land and waters.

Oxfam has now partnered with the NSW Aboriginal Fishing Rights Group to support their bid to secure cultural and commercial access to the marine resources on the NSW coast. We’re supporting the people of the Yuin Nation to make their case to political parties and empower individuals to deepen their practice of traditional fishing. Recognising these traditional rights would held to reduce the incarceration of Aboriginal people for customary fishing and help promote healthy lifestyles.

Research by Oxfam has shown that Aboriginal people in NSW account for more than 80 per cent of the people jailed for fishing offences over the past decade, while many more Aboriginal people have been fined and harassed for carrying out traditional fishing. Oxfam has supported the making of short films about this issue and the production of identity cards that confirm the bona fide native title rights of each holder.

The Group has lodged a native title claim and it has formed a corporation to advance its rights-based advocacy. Oxfam is now looking to partner with similar groups that want to build sustainable livelihoods based on traditional and commercial fishing, hunting and forest management.

International Links

Oxfam Australia has supported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s participation at the United Nations and other international forums. Recently we supported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to participate in a United Nations Indigenous fellowship program in Geneva; to undertake Fulbright Scholarship in the United States; to attend international climate change talks in Paris (2015) and Marrakesh (2016).

Oxfam’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff attended an international summit in Canada hosted by Oxfam Quebec on youth and inequality and met with First Nations people in Canada to share experiences and knowledge on issues such as inequality. Connecting young people with Indigenous leaders is essential to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s voices continue to be heard around the world.

In 2017 Oxfam attended the Reducing Inequality in a Turbulent World Forum hosted by the Rights and Resource Initiative in Stockholm. We were able to share valuable knowledge with our Oxfam International colleagues and strengthen our Indigenous networks across the confederation.

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