15 years on from Australia endorsing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or UNDRIP – an Indigenous UN expert believes Treaties are the way forward.

UNDRIP sets out the minimum human rights standards for the survival and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples, but it’s not legally binding without government intervention.

Australia initially waited two years before endorsing UNDRIP and has been criticised for its failure to roll out any meaningful changes into law, policy, or practice over the last 15 years.

Butchulla and Gubbi Gubbi man Les Malezer was the Chair of the Global Indigenous Caucus when UNDRIP was first adopted by the UN General Assembly.

He’s told NIRS news that Australia’s failure to enshrine UNDRIP shows the Federal Government isn’t serious about achieving its objectives.

“I think if Australia was sincere about supporting the Declaration, which is part of international human rights law, first off, it would have voted for the declaration in 2007.

“Instead, it’s become a political yo-yo, depending on the government of the day. If it’s conservative government, they say they don’t support it. if it’s a Labor Government, they’ll say they do support it, but even a Labor Government doesn’t really take much action to put those human rights standards into place.

“Australia’s performance against the Declaration and on the rights of Indigenous people, has still been very poor. It says it supports it, but it doesn’t do anything to actually make that happen.”

As recently as last year both Coalition and Labor joined forces to vote down a bill to implement UNDRIP into Australian law.

Mr Malezer is now the Chairperson for the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action in Australia (FAIRA) and says the lack of action by successive governments shows why Treaty discussions are needed.

“The key article in the Declaration is Article 3, which says that Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination and that’s the key element of the declaration.

“Self-determination means that Indigenous peoples can make their own decisions about how their lands might be developed, about the futures of their generations through education, and any sort of political, social, cultural development that the population goes through as peoples, and so on. All those decisions are made by the peoples themselves.”

He says the Declaration is not what was proposed in last year’s failed referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

“The referendum clearly made a situation where the government will create an advisory body to the Parliament. So, Parliament still would make the decisions.

“The Declaration says Indigenous Peoples have the right to be autonomous and have their own governments or to participate in the political life of the state, that is the Australian Government.

“So the state can’t force Indigenous Peoples to accept decisions made by the state, the Australian Government, Indigenous Peoples have the right to do that themselves.

“Indigenous Peoples have the right to have their own representative systems, have their own legal systems, etc, these are embodied in the Declaration.

“None of those things are conceded by the Australian Government at this stage, nor has the government any speeches or any discussion at all, in pursuing those sorts of issues.

“This is one of the reasons why my support is now for the Treaty proposal, because I live in the hope that Treaty discussions will negotiate with the Government of Australia to see how these rights can be implemented and enjoyed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia.”

You can listen to the full interview with Les Malezer here:

Image: Les Malezer addressing the U.N’s General Assembly. Les Malezer's FaceBook page.