Australia's First Peoples - still struggling for protection against racial discrimination

Shelley Bielefeld, Jon Altman

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


    Still strongly affected by its colonial legacy, Australia offers very little by way of robust protection for the interests of Australia’s First Peoples. The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (RDA) is a notable exception amidst Australia’s long legislative history of racially discriminatory legislation. In the absence of constitutionally protected human rights or a national bill of rights, the RDA is of great practical and symbolic value. This is so because it has been successfully relied upon at times to protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be free from racial discrimination and/or racial vilification. The RDA was a belated quest to eliminate racial injustice in 1975. Yet the precarious nature of the protection offered by the RDA has been evident in recent years with the Northern Territory Emergency Response, commonly referred to as the Intervention, which overrode protections for Indigenous peoples living in the Northern Territory. This circumstance highlights the limitations that the Federal Parliament was willing to place on human rights for Indigenous peoples. The Intervention, and the continuation of key aspects of the Intervention under the Stronger Futures framework, suggests that Australia is still struggling with the issue of racial discrimination, how a ‘crisis’ is defined, and what is considered to be a beneficial special measure. It remains to be seen whether Australia is willing to move beyond a limiting framework of rights protection for Indigenous peoples. The current debate over the constitutional recognition of Australia’s First Peoples also brings this issue to the fore. However, contemporary developments in law and policy show that robust protection of rights for Indigenous peoples remains urgent.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    Event40 years of the Racial Discrimination Act RDA@40 2015 - Australian Human Rights Commission, Sydney, NSW
    Duration: 1 Jan 2015 → …


    Conference40 years of the Racial Discrimination Act RDA@40 2015
    Period1/01/15 → …


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