Policy positions on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues
Oxfam Australia has for decades campaigned for governments and all Australians to recognise the unique place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the nation, and their right to self-determination. We support Indigenous organisations in making decisions about their own development. While we do not attempt to speak on behalf of Aboriginal people, Oxfam Australia has always backed policies that will enable Aboriginal communities to take control of their destiny.
The starting point of our activism on Indigenous injustice is a rights-based approach to development, which is consistent with Oxfam’s work globally. We believe that recognising the rights of Australia’s First Peoples is the starting point for building a more positive future, and for achieving reconciliation.
The right to self-determination for Aboriginal peoples is the foundation for positive change. Indigenous organisations need to be given the funding and resources they need to make decisions about their own development. In our 2017 report on rights, Moving Beyond Recognition, Oxfam Australia called on the Federal Government to introduce comprehensive legislation to protect human rights, such as a Human Rights Act. These protections should include the right to self-determination, respect for and protection of cultural rights and the right to equality and non-discrimination.
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous peoples around the world should be protected by the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as this represents a roadmap for achieving lasting reconciliation and advancement. The Declaration establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, wellbeing and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples. It does not create any new rights but rather it elaborates on existing international human rights norms and principles as they apply to Indigenous peoples. Oxfam has called on the Federal government to implement the provisions contained in the Declaration, including the principle of free, prior and informed consent.
The national native title law requires Indigenous communities to prove that they have a continuous connection with land. The government should reverse the onus of proof placed on claimants to demonstrate ongoing connection to land. The government should reform the native title law so that it gives Indigenous peoples a right of veto over development on their land, rather than the often ineffective right to negotiate.
As a founding member of the Close the Gap coalition, Oxfam has consistently called for a substantial boost to health services for Indigenous peoples. This campaign led the Rudd government to increase funding substantially, followed by the development of the long-term 2013-2023 Health Plan. However, these initiatives were followed by severe funding cuts in 2014 and the Federal government is yet to fund the plan. Oxfam has called on the Government to support locally-based, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) as a central part of its strategy to reduce the life expectancy gap and the high rates of child mortality and chronic disease.
Aboriginal Australians are one of the most incarcerated peoples in the world. Oxfam Australia is a founding member of the Change the Record coalition which has developed a plan to empower local Aboriginal communities to deal with justice issues, and to reduce imprisonment through law reform. We also support NSW’s Just Reinvest coalition, and Social Reinvestment WA.
Language and cultural heritage
Cultural heritage, including language, traditional knowledge and expressions are vitally important to Indigenous peoples. Oxfam calls on governments to support the role of institutions that promote knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, such as AIATSIS, in order to preserve the unique value of traditional knowledge and practices within Australia.
Northern Territory Emergency Response
While Oxfam welcomed the significant investments made into the lives of Aboriginal communities as a result of the NTER, we were concerned that communities have been increasingly disempowered and marginalised, while experiencing loss of self-esteem and heightened experiences of racism. The discriminatory and degrading measures implemented are likely to have exacerbated the very problems the interventions have been attempting to address, compromising efforts to lay a foundation for a sustainable and better future for residents of remote communities in the NT. Oxfam has called on the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments to replace the ”emergency response” with a long term, comprehensive, evidence and rights-based plan to combat poverty in Aboriginal communities.
Oxfam’s work in Australia and globally is strongly influenced by the principles of self-determination and the right to be heard. While we believe that governments should never make changes to welfare payments based on race, we support communities that want to modify the way payments can be used in order to reduce harm. If the Australian Government is to target particular communities with welfare reform, this should be done by first consulting widely and gaining the consent of leaders.