Rights of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander People Recognised

Dr Helen Watchirs, ACT Human Rights and Discrimination Commissioner, today welcomed the passage of new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultural rights.

The ACT Human Rights Act 2004 now explicitly recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples hold distinct cultural rights, and must not be denied the right to maintain, protect and develop their culture. The new rights also acknowledge their material and economic relationships with the land, waters and other resources.

‘The rights was the culmination of work between my office, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body and the ACT Government,’ said Dr Watchirs.

‘These new rights build upon similar law under the Victorian Human Rights Charter, and implements at the local level the key principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This new substantive provision goes beyond the current general reference in the Preamble of the Act, and specifically recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural rights. This will increase awareness and understanding of the value of these rights, and hopefully improve practical outcomes in terms of overcoming disadvantage.’

‘These rights are also consistent with the recommendations of the Report of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.’

The Commissioner also welcomed the increased protection provided by an enhanced Right to Education.

‘ACT Government Directorates, and other Public Authorities, will now need to act and make decisions consistently with the right to education. Already we have worked positively with the Government to change the fee-charging policies of the Education Directorate in relation to international students attending ACT Government schools and colleges. ’

The Children and Young People Commissioner, Alasdair Roy, and Dr Watchirs also welcomed further guidance material in the Act about the rights of children, although would like to see further changes in this area.

‘It would be an important symbolic gesture to separate the rights of children from the rights of the family under the Human Rights Act,’ said Mr Roy.

The changes to the Human Rights Act will commence in the coming weeks.

12 February 2016