In a landmark decision on 13 March 2019, the Australian High Court ordered the Government of the Northern Territory to pay $2.53 million AUD (1.78 million USD) in compensation to the Ngaliwurru and Nungali peoples for the loss of Native Title in the town of Timber Creek.
Indigenous peoples in Australia
The aboriginal population in Australia is estimated at 745,000 individuals or 3% of the total population of 24,220,200. Australia recognizes indigenous peoples. Still, the high suicide rates among the indigenous population in Australia are alarming.
The situation of the aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of Australia has been recognized in several ways: through the native title and the historic Mabo decision, and in legislation such as the Law of Racial Discrimination (1975), the native Title Act (1993); and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act (1989 and 2005).
Other important events have been the Australian Declaration of Reconciliation and the Roadmap for Reconciliation (2006) and the National Apology to Stolen Generations (2008). At the national level, there is a ministry of Indigenous Affairs and since 2015 a Deputy Ministry of Indigenous Health and Care and States and Territories have legislation on indigenous rights.
Australia has not ratified ILO Convention No. 169, and although it voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007, it ratified it in 2009.
Throughout its history, indigenous peoples have lived throughout Australia. Today most live in regional centres (43%) or in cities (32%), although some still live on traditional lands in remote or very remote areas. 65% of the indigenous population lives outside the areas of the capital of Australia.
At the time of the colonization of Australia in 1788, there could have been up to 1.5 million indigenous peoples in the country. Today, the aboriginal population is estimated at about 745,000 individuals or 3% of the total population of Australia of 24,220,200.
Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in the Australian criminal justice system, with 2,346 prisoners per 100,000 indigenous people, 13 times more than in the case of the non-indigenous population.
Main challenges for the indigenous peoples of Australia
The health situation is particularly alarming. The gap in mortality rates remains 1.7 times higher for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders than for non-indigenous people. Mortality among children 0 to 4 years old is 1.9 times higher than for non-indigenous children. Aboriginal people and the Australian Torres Strait Islanders also have higher rates of chronic diseases and the death rate from diabetes is 12 times higher than the rate of non-indigenous Australians.
Suicide has become an important cause of premature mortality for indigenous people and in 2014 it was the fifth cause of death among indigenous peoples. Indigenous children and youth are particularly vulnerable: indigenous people between the ages of 15 and 24 are five times more likely to commit suicide than their non-indigenous peers and 30% of the country's youth suicides are aboriginal. Aboriginal children account for 80% of suicides in the nation of children 12 years old and younger.
The sovereignty without descent of indigenous Australia over its lands and waters is not recognized in the Constitution. The Uluru Declaration from the Heart this year, a call for the inclusion of an indigenous voice in the Constitution along with the discussions around the treaty, marked another step towards the recognition and agenda of indigenous rights.
There is a division at the policy level between the aspirations of the aborigines and what the government and the water management authorities are willing to accept. Calls for recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples to own and manage freshwater often face objections that "water is a shared public resource and should be available to all." Objections of this type, however, do not recognize that the extraction and sale of freshwater have already transformed water into a commodity. An opportunity to create a space for indigenous water rights would be to allocate water licenses based on current areas of native title, which are currently predominantly limited to cultural activities.
Political participation of the indigenous population of Australia
Indigenous peoples have advocated for a long time for better political representation and fairer consultation. The newly elected Parliament includes five indigenous parliamentarians; three senators, Patrick (Pat) Dodson, Jacqui Lambie and Malarndirri McCarthy; and two members of the House of Representatives, Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney.
Ken Wyatt became the first indigenous deputy elected in 2010 and, since 2015, he has been the deputy minister of the Coalition for the care of indigenous age and health. Linda Burney is the first indigenous woman to occupy a seat in the federal House of Representatives and is the shadow of the Minister of Human Services of the Australian Labor Party. At the state level, there are currently 11 indigenous state parliamentarians (7 men and 4 women).
Mick Dodson, a law professor, member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and director of the Australian National University’s National Centre for Indigenous Studies, has been appointed the next chair of Harvard’s Committee on Australian Studies.
Due to the withdrawal of federal funding for essential services up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities have been marked for closure by the State Government of West Australia.
A leaked document obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC), recently revealed that extensive research was conducted as early as 2010 to identify remote West Australian Aboriginal communities considered unsustainable.