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Indigenous Issues in NSW

Indigenous Issues in NSW

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Background Paper No. 02/2004 by Talina Drabsch
Indigenous Australians represent approximately 2.4% of the total population of Australia. Almost one-third of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live in New South Wales. This paper provides an overview of some of the key issues involving Indigenous Australians in NSW. Whilst there are many Indigenous cultures within Australia, this paper discusses issues that are generally a common experience for many Indigenous Australians.

The Indigenous community in NSW is disadvantaged both socially and economically when compared to the population in general. This paper identifies a number of the factors that have contributed to the current state of Indigenous affairs, and notes some of the strategies that have been developed as part of an attempt to improve the situation of the Indigenous population of Australia. It attempts to highlight the links that exist between the experience of many Indigenous persons in a number of areas including health, education, employment, housing, contact with the criminal justice system, the level of violence within the community, the removal of children from their families and an assortment of rights issues.

This paper provides an overview of Indigenous affairs as they existed on 15 April 2004, when Prime Minister Howard announced that the Coalition would introduce legislation to abolish ATSIC following the resumption of Parliament in May. A panel of Indigenous persons are to subsequently be appointed to have a purely advisory relationship with the Government. At this stage, the detail of how the abolition of ATSIC will impact many of the strategies outlined in this paper is uncertain.

This paper does not discuss the topic of native title and land rights. Whilst extremely important and intimately linked to the contents of this paper, the issue of land is a large subject and will be the topic of a forthcoming paper.

Section two (pp 5-10) gives a snapshot of the health of Indigenous Australians, which is significantly poorer on all levels when compared to the rest of the population. It highlights the factors that have contributed to this generally poor health status, and the strategies that have been developed in response.

Section three (pp 11-18) examines the Indigenous community’s experience of education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Information is provided on past and current education policies, in order to facilitate an understanding of contemporary attitudes towards education. The factors that have influenced the relatively poor educational outcomes of Indigenous students are identified.

An overview of Indigenous employment can be found in section four (pp 19-24). Details of the Community Development and Employment Projects Scheme and various small business initiatives are provided. Background information to the ‘stolen wages’ debate is also included.

An overview of various housing issues faced by the Indigenous community is located in section five (pp 25-28). It provides an outline of a number of housing programs that have been developed, as well as noting the legislative framework of the Aboriginal Housing Office.

Section six (pp 29-41) examines the relationship between the Indigenous community and the criminal justice system. It explores various policing issues, the role of the courts (particularly in relation to sentencing) and rates of imprisonment. Some of the factors that contribute to the disproportionate contact between Indigenous Australians and the criminal justice system are identified and discussed, whilst a number of the strategies that have been developed in response are highlighted throughout.

Indigenous communities experience relatively high levels of family violence, self-harm, suicide, homicide and incarceration. Section seven (pp 42-50) discusses the level of violence experienced with particular attention given to violence against women and children, as well as the incidence of suicide and self-harm.

The Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, Bringing Them Home , was published in 1997. It brought into the open the impact of the various child removal policies that had operated in Australia until the 1970s as part of a broader assimilation policy. Section eight (pp 51-59) notes the response of various bodies, including the NSW Government, to its release. This section discusses various child removal policies that have applied in NSW, both past and present, and considers how their legacy continues to be felt today.

Section nine (pp 60-70) discusses a number of issues associated with the rights of Indigenous Australians. A short account of the process of reconciliation is included, as well as an overview of a sample of the particularly relevant human rights that are enshrined in international conventions. Various arguments for and against the concept of a treaty are considered, with a summary of what various authors and organisations have argued ought to be included in an agreement, should one be made.

The Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is attached as Appendix A.