Australia's treatment of Aborigines 'appalling'

September 10, 2000

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UN issues unprecedented criticism; government's stance '30 years out of date'

As athletes and spectators arrive in Sydney from all over the world, Survival today condemned Australia's treatment of Aborigines as 'appalling'. Survival's Director General Stephen Corry said, 'The Australian government seems hell-bent on doing everything it can to deny Aborigines their internationally-recognised rights, especially their land rights. Its stance can only be described as racist, and seems like a throwback to attitudes 30 years ago. Recent government legislation will make it very difficult for many Aborigines to reclaim land now occupied by huge ranches.'

Two UN Committees have recently condemned the Australian government's treatment of its Aboriginal population. Anger amongst Aborigines has never been as high. Typical of the government's contempt towards them is its refusal to apologise for previous policies under which tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were removed from their parents. In contrast, many other countries such as Canada and Japan have issued apologies for historical policies that would be unacceptable today. Australia recently became the first affluent industrialised country to be subject to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination's early warning procedure.

The Foreign Minister Mr Alexander Downer's response to UN criticism of mandatory sentencing laws (which disproportionately affect Aborigines) was that the UN would 'end up with its nose bloodied' if it continued to scrutinise Australia's affairs.

The facts are:

  • Aboriginal life expectancy is 17 – 20 years less than other Australians.
  • Aboriginal babies are four times as likely to die at birth as non-Aborigines.
  • Aboriginal people are 17 times more likely to be arrested, 14 times more likely to be imprisoned and 16 times more likely to die in custody than non-Aborigines.
  • In Western Australia, Aboriginal women are 41 times more likely to be in jail than other women.
  • There has been a 70% rise in Aboriginal incarceration since 1989.
  • The suicide rate is 6 times higher for Aborigines than the national average.
  • The infant mortality rate for Aborigines is over three times the national average.
  • Unemployment amongst Aborigines is four times the national average.
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Aboriginal peoples