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UN anti-racisim panel slams indigenous policy

The UN anti-racism panel expressed concern at the lingering impact of a clampdown on Aborigines in northern Australia, warning that the country faced a broader problem with “embedded” discrimination.


The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged Australia to “fully reinstate the racial discrimination act”, as it highlighted ongoing prejudice against Aborigines despite political pledges in recent years.

The committee slated the “unacceptably high level of disadvantage and social dislocation” for Aborigines in the Northern Territories.

It also raised concerns about the handling of refugees and asylum seekers, as well as anti-terrorism measures, discrimination against newer, mainly Muslim, ethnic communities and assaults on foreign students in the country.

“Our overall assessment is that there are serious government efforts to address these matters, but there are certain structural aspects — a kind of structurally embedded discrimination — that’s difficult to uproot,” said Committee member Patrick Thornberry.

The UN panel’s 18 experts released their conclusions on Friday following a regular review of Australia’s application of international standards in a hearing earlier this month.

“The committee expresses concern that the package of legislation under the Northern Territory Emergency Response continues to discriminate on the basis of race as well as the use of so called special measures by (Australia),” the committee’s report said.

Thornberry told journalists the panel was “particularly anxious” to see the racial discrimination act fully reinstated.

Overall Australia had to step up its efforts at reconciliation with its downtrodden indigenous population, including “the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Trait Islanders as First Nations Peoples,” the report added.

In 2008, ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd made a historic apology to “Stolen Generations” of Aborigines taken from their homes for assimilation with white families.

But his government continued a controversial intervention policy against social disorder in Aboriginal communities that was introduced by his predecessors in 2007 and initially enforced using troops.

During the election campaign this month, the government promised to revise the constitution and formally recognise the indigenous population for the first time, while the opposition pledged a new ministry for Aboriginal affairs.

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