Address to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

  • Speech, E&OE

As we gather together for this historic World Conference, I acknowledge the presence of Indigenous elders and national leaders from across the globe.

For over a decade, Tony Abbott, now Australia's Prime Minister, has spent time each year working and living in remote Aboriginal communities. His aim has been to gain a personal understanding of the lives and needs of Indigenous peoples living in these areas.

When he became Prime Minister last year he committed to continuing his visits and last week he effectively shifted the centre of our national Government from our capital Canberra to the lands of the Yolngu people in remote Arnhem Land in Northern Australia, accompanied by Ministers, parliamentary colleagues, and senior Government officials. The Yothu Yindi Foundation – an eminent Indigenous organisation founded by elders from five local clans – said that it was 'very impressed' by the Prime Minister's visit to Arnhem Land to 'grasp the complexities, understand the community and the Yolngu people'.

One of the first decisions the Prime Minister took was to move Indigenous Affairs directly into his own portfolio, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, in order to give Indigenous issues the national prominence they need.

To many people around the world, Australia is a young nation. But our history has been thousands of years in the making.

Australia's first peoples are the oldest continuous living cultures on Earth, and we are proud of our rich Indigenous heritage.

The contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to modern Australian society is integral to who we are as a country.

Australia's Indigenous peoples, like so many Indigenous peoples around the globe, have been engaged in a decades-long journey for recognition, acceptance, respect, empowerment and realisation of their basic human rights.

We are committed to addressing the inter-generational disadvantage that still exists.

Australia joined in supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – a landmark document of deep symbolic and practical importance, developed collaboratively by governments and Indigenous peoples, which set out ways to address the injustices faced by Indigenous peoples around the world.

Australia's journey towards reconciliation is an ongoing one, and includes pursuing Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and recognising in our founding document their rightful place as our nation's first peoples.

We are also committed to better engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders on decisions that affect their lives.

The Australian Government is working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to ensure our policies and programmes make meaningful, positive and sustained changes for them. We want all our children to go to school, adults to have a job, and our communities to be safe and secure.

I commend the historic adoption earlier today of the outcome document to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples – a document developed in close cooperation between States and Indigenous peoples. I particularly acknowledge the work of the State advisors (Liberia and Slovenia) and our own Mr Les Malezer and Nicaragua's Dr Mirna Cunningham in this regard.

The World Conference outcome is noteworthy - for setting out practical actions for governments, the international community, the private sector, and civil society to take in partnership with Indigenous peoples to promote the principles of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; for strengthening UN engagement on indigenous issues; and for affirming that the universal human rights enjoyed by all people apply equally to Indigenous peoples.

It is a significant step forward for us all. But it is not the end of the journey.

The challenge now will be for each nation to embrace the spirit of this document and take action that makes a real difference to the lives of Indigenous peoples.

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