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.
Indigenous Peoples in Australia
The aboriginal population in Australia is estimated at 745,000 individuals or 3.3% of the total population of 24,220,200. Geographically, 62% of the Indigenous population live outside of Australia’s major cities, including 12% in areas classified as very remote. 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.
At the time of the colonization of Australia in 1788, there could have been up to 1.5 million Indigenous Peoples in the country.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are vastly overrepresented in the Australian criminal justice system, with 2,481 prisoners per 100,000 In- digenous people—15 times greater than for the non-indigenous population.
Main challenges for the Indigenous Peoples of Australia
The median age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is 23 compared to 38 for the non-indigenous population. 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. As of June 2021, the 46th Parliament includes six parliamentarians who identify as Indigenous or as having Indigenous heritage—two members of the House of Representatives and four senators.
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.