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The Voice gives chance to organise collectively

Hannah McGlade -

To this day many do not know the civil rights history of the Noongar people resisting colonial genocidal laws and policies.

In 1928 a Noongar delegation to the Premier led by William Harris, the 'Native Union' as they called themselves, did all they could to speak out about the human rights abuse inflicted on them, they knew their survival as a people was at stake.

It was more than six years ago the Perth Dialogue unequivocally supported Voice and constitutional reform, and our meeting was adamant that constitutional recognition must be more than symbolic, that meaningful recognition and rights must be negotiated.

We've heard so much outcry and objection, claims that Aboriginal people will have 'special rights' because of Voice. The hypocrisy of this complaint in the face of the actual history and truth that our peoples fundamental and basic human rights were so violated and abused.

It's not the Voice that's divisive, but the failure of the Australian nation state to respect our people's human rights under the UN treaties: binding international human rights law.

The Voice, a national representative body, empowered to advocate for Aboriginal people, is critical to promoting our rights under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and binding Treaties we signed.

Too many Indigenous women are being murdered in our country. In our study on Indigenous femicide, we documented the global dimension of Indigenous femicide and the violence of the State to Indigenous women. Most Aboriginal women are denied justice - this violates the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

And as the Federal Government's recent Closing the Gap report shows, Aboriginal incarceration, child removals and suicides are increasing, evidencing systemic racial discrimination and lack of commitment by governments to human rights in these key areas.

We've seen little progress on the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry 'Pathways to Justice, Reducing Aboriginal Incarceration' and both Senator Pat Dodson and I called for the establishment of a National Aboriginal Justice Commission. We were not heard.

WA, followed by the NT, have the highest rates of Aboriginal youth incarceration from the mere age of 10 years, due to mandatory detention laws, condemned as racially discriminatory by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), who told Australia such laws must be repealed.

At Banksia Detention Centre Aboriginal children are locked in solitary confinement in their small cells for weeks and months on end. This treatment is clearly prohibited under the UN Mandela Rules and the ICCPR prohibition of cruel and inhumane treatment. Australia has still not signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child – denying children the right to complain about the human rights abuse they are experiencing.

In December 2021 our complaint to the UN CERD under the Early Warning Urgent Action procedure in relation to the passage the new WA Heritage Laws was accepted.

This law was widely opposed for its failure to properly respect the rights of Indigenous People to protect lands and culture, and our right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). The Act was used since 1972 to authorise widespread destruction of heritage sites by the Minister of the day against the wishes of traditional owners, including the destruction of Juukan Gorge.

Australia must protect Indigenous People from such harms imposed by mining companies, whether in Australia or abroad. A binding Convention on Business and Human Rights is urgently needed, requiring proper accountability from business to Indigenous people.

According to the Family Matters campaign, Indigenous children in WA are 16.7 times more likely to be removed by child protection services than non-Indigenous children. Aboriginal child removal rates have been steadily increasing over the last decade plus notwithstanding the leadership of Aboriginal women.

We campaigned extensively against the Community and Services Act (2021), which failed to ensure the right of Aboriginal families to participate in decision making about their own children by way of Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making (AFLDM) processes. Our Voices were not respected – but after our advocacy, AFLDM was introduced in two locations. We still maintain that the recommendations from the Bringing Them Home inquiry some 25 years ago, for the transfer of jurisdiction to Aboriginal people's organisations, is urgently needed.

Why is the Voice needed to progress Indigenous rights? Notwithstanding our proud history of advocacy and activism, we need a constitutionally protected Voice to protect our rights. A Voice that can't be silenced and has a mandate to advocate on Indigenous rights, nationally and also under international human rights law.

Our people, notwithstanding the violent assimilation processes which continue to this day, have always resisted, and fought for our rights. Voice, Treaty and Truth is fundamental to bringing human rights to life, for our people, and for this country. The Voice gives us a real chance to organise collectively to continue the fight for justice, as our old people taught us.

Dr Hannah McGlade is from the Kurin Minang people, a human rights expert and member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

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