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Coalition, Labor combine to sink Senator Thorpe Bill to enshrine Indigenous rights

Giovanni Torre -

Labor and the Coalition have voted together to defeat a Bill from Senator Lidia Thorpe to enshrine in Australian law the rights established by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Senator Thorpe, a Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman and independent senator for Victoria, first introduced the Private Members bill in March 2022. After 21 months and two inquiries, the government and opposition voted the Bill down on Wednesday morning.

The senator noted that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples outlines the minimum standard of First Peoples rights and centres around the right to Self-determination, Free, Prior and Informed Consent and the right to maintain and practice culture, with the goal of defending the survival, dignity and well‐being of Indigenous peoples.

Senator Thorpe's Bill would require the federal government to take measures to ensure consistency between Commonwealth law and the Declaration, and prepare and implement an action plan to achieve the objectives of the Declaration. The Bill would also, if made law, have obliged the Prime Minister to present annual reports to Parliament on the progress of those actions.

Senator Thorpe, who represents the Blak Sovereign Movement, noted that the "Albanese government claimed they cared about First Peoples rights and justice when they went ahead with the Voice referendum".

"Yet after the failed referendum, they can't even bring themselves to support the minimum standards of our rights being adhered to in this country," she said.

"Implementing UNDRIP in this country is the obvious next step to pursuing First Peoples justice in this country. Yet a powerless advisory body is as much as the government is prepared to give us.

"Today our people have yet again been let down by a colonial government, even when we're putting the solutions right in front of them. Once again our value as people and as First Peoples of these lands is being diminished."

Senator Thorpe said that by opposing the Bill, the government has shown "it doesn't care about First Peoples".

"The same was demonstrated through them voting against First Nations consultation in the National Repair Market Bill last night," she said.

"The government reluctantly signed onto the UNDRIP in 2009, yet 14 years later it still cannot bring itself to comply with its international obligations."

Carumba Institute at Queensland University of Technology executive director, Munanjahli and Yugambeh woman Professor Chelsea Watego, said: "When we speak of Indigenous rights, we are speaking about Indigenous lives.

"It is a call for a rethink of Indigenous affairs, away from the needs-based approach which operates as a self-fulfilling prophecy, keeping us trapped on the mouse wheel of misery – it is what keeps our kids in out of home care, kicks our kids out of schools, places our people in prisons, and leaves us grieving at gravesites for lives lost well before their time," she said.

"Enshrining UNDRIP into Australian law would've been a way of getting us off this miserable road to nowhere and realise real progress for our people.

"The continued denial of our rights by those who have the most to gain reflects a steadfast commitment to the continuing violence of settler colonialism and absolute indifference to Indigenous lives and lands."

Gunaikurnai and Wotjobaluk writer Benjamin Abbatangello said that if the Albanese government had "a modicum of decency" it would have "enthusiastically supported Senator Thorpe's bill - which is not only a bare minimum and uncontroversial piece of legislation that other comparable nations have already enshrined; but a logical next step in the wake of a failed referendum".

"Over the last eighteen months, Labor ministers have written countless columns and used innumerable domestic and international press conferences, question times, senate estimates, television and radio interviews, sports and cultural events to prosecute the urgent need to address Indigenous marginalisation," he said.

"Senator Thorpe's bill provides the government with an actionable and familiar framework that would not only radically improve our lives, but address the very marginalisation that they said can no longer be ignored. After spending almost two decades delaying the implementation of UNDRIP, which has culminated in the rejection of this bill, the government should be removed as a signatory."

Minister Jason Clare, Acting Minister for Indigenous Australians noted that in 2009 it was a Labor government that formally agreed to uphold the principles of UNDRIP.

"Since then, UNDRIP principles have underpinned our approach to First Nations policies and programs," he told National Indigenous Times.

"Just last week Senator Pat Dodson handed down a report on UNDRIP that was carefully drafted over more than six months. The report did not recommend the approach adopted in the proposed Bill. We're now in the process of carefully considering the report."

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