Australian Prime Minister lobbied for Canada to oppose Indigenous Rights

The Australian Prime Minister did lobby the newly-elected Canadian Government to switch its position and vote against the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Governments of Australia and New Zealand have both introduced major legislation in recent years to steal Indigenous lands and resources. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has condemned Australia and New Zealand for being in breach of the International Convention against racism.

These two governments have been successful in lobbying Canada to vote against the adoption of the Declaration. For Canada, it has been a major reversal of its policies of support for Indigenous rights. The Government of Canada is being heavily criticised by the Indigenous Peoples for betraying its role as a human rights defender on the Human Rights Council. Only Canada and the Russian Federation voted against the Declaration when the Declaration was formally adopted by the Human Rights Council in June this year.

Australia and New Zealand continue to agitate against the Declaration in an attempt to make legitimate their own discriminatory policies. They have told other member States that the Declaration can be construed as supporting secession and undermining the sovereignty of the States and parliaments. These outlandish claims are presented as quasi-legal arguments but the international law clearly does not support these positions. Only Canada was prepared to abandon its human rights responsibilities to listen to Australia and New Zealand.

The Government of Australia has admitted that it used its Office of Indigenous Policy (OIPC) to lobby against the Declaration and to persuade New Zealand and Canada to joint forces to oppose the rights of Indigenous Peoples. OIPC, which was established as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in Australia was abolished, is actually advocating policies in Australia which go against Indigenous rights. The Government of Australia is, in particular, opposed to the principle of free, prior and informed consent for Indigenous Peoples. The discussions in the Australian Parliament are as follows.

Australian Parliament

Supplementary Budget Estimates

Senator CHRIS EVANSI want to ask about what involvement the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has had in Australias positioning on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Dr Morauta
We are just trying to find out between our international area and social policy who might take the question. We are still not sure. The question was what role we played?

Senator CHRIS EVANSYes. Foreign Affairs, I suspect, are involved, but I gather the Prime Minister has had some involvement in Australias lobbying and discussions about a decision not to support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I just wonder what PM&Cs involvement with that has been.

Mr Borrowman
PM&C has been one of a number of departments, including Foreign Affairs and Trade, as you mentioned, and the Office of Indigenous Policy, that have together worked on developing the Australian governments position on this question.

Senator CHRIS EVANSIs there an Inter Departmental Committee?

Mr Borrowman
I would have to check the list. I am pretty certain there is no IDC per se. From time to time there have been meetings, though not one that I am aware of recently. There has been correspondence about the matter.

Senator CHRIS EVANSI do not think it was on the list you gave me. I thought I had done you a service and made you compile a list. Glad to see you using it now. Who says I do not perform a public service. So you have been briefing the Prime Minister on the matter?

Mr Borrowman
The department has been briefing the Prime Minister, yes. The international divisions role is as much about policy and practices in terms of international committees. The substance has been much more handled by the Office of Indigenous Policy.

OIPC staff member, Peter Vaughan, (second from left) appears before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2005. CERD has found Australia to be in breach of the Convention on five occasions of hearings since 1998 but Australia refuses to recognise CERD's recommendations to remove laws which extinguish Aboriginal property rights and enter into negotiations with Aboriginal leadership for an agreed arrangement over land rights. Australia suspended the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 so Aboriginal people could not appeal to the courts of Australia over the discriminatory laws.

Senator CHRIS EVANSSo has the Prime Minister been briefed with a view to discussing it with other leaders?

Mr BorrowmanYes.

Senator CHRIS EVANSWas he involved with the decision to make a joint submission with New Zealand and the US?

Mr BorrowmanI would have to take that on notice.

Senator CHRIS EVANSCan you tell me whether the Prime Minister was briefed on this issue prior to his recent visit to Canada?

Mr Borrowman
Yes, he was.

Senator CHRIS EVANSAnd subsequently, Canada withdrew its support for the declaration?

Mr BorrowmanThat is true. But in saying that, I would also point out that the government had very recently changed in Canada. So in that sense it would not be surprising that there were new policies that the incoming government followed which were different from those followed by the outgoing government.

Senator CHRIS EVANSThey seem to have adopted all the other indigenous policies. I notice that they actually honoured the commitment to the residential schools settlement in full but they did not on this issue. So the prime development of our position though to oppose the declaration has been handled inside Foreign Affairs?

Mr Borrowman
I think it is a whole-of-government position. That is the best answer I can give there. Yes, Foreign Affairs has a lead on it because it is handled in an international forum. But, as I say, the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination has been closely involved. Our position, as you know, is that these negotiations have been carrying on for at least some 10 years substantively and I believe 20 years procedurally and this government at least has certainly expressed consistent concerns about certain aspects of the draft declaration in respect of the treatment of self-determination in the draft declaration.

Senator CHRIS EVANSI think you raised concerns with three articles, but you would say at the heart of it is this question of self-determination?

Mr Borrowman
Again, I would not like to comment without informing myself further about it because, as I say, it is a matter that is shared among a number of areas. You give particular weight to that, but certainly self-determination was one of the particular issues. In the context of how it eventually panned out, there were also some unusual procedural approaches adopted. There was not a consensus about the final document. Nevertheless, the chair of the working group, the relevant UN chairman, decided to proceed in the absence of consensus, which is very unusual. That was also of concern to us.

Senator CHRIS EVANSSo you are saying there was concern about process or that helped determine the governments final position?

Mr Borrowman
It was certainly a factor in the governments final position.

Senator CHRIS EVANSDo you know whether you briefed the Prime Minister for any discussions with the Russian officials on this matter?

Mr Borrowman
I am not aware that the Prime Minister has had any discussion with Russian officials on this matter.

Senator CHRIS EVANSHe is a bit like the nuclear task force: he travels widely and someone has to keep a close track. Do you mind taking that on notice? Thanks for that.

General Assembly President, HE Madame Sheika Heya Rashed Al Khalifa, receives greetings from Indigenous delegate, Jose Carlos Morales. The President listened to requests that the Indigenous Peoples be acknowledged in the General Assembly when the Declaration is formally adopted.

for more information
on the Declaration

Permanent Forum on
Indigenous Issues

Office of the High Commissioner
for Human Rights

Documentation Centre
for Indigenous Peoples

Tebtebba Foundation

International Indian Treaty Council

American Indian Law Alliance

International Work Group
for Indigenous Affairs

Rights and Democracy

Amnesty International, Canada

University of Minnesota
Human Rights Library

(Download Kit)

Letter to States by
Special Rapporteur & Chair of PFII

Letter to States by
Indigenous Peoples Caucus

Letter to States by
Ambassadors to UN

Ten Key Points

Declaration (download)

How States voted in the
Human Rights Council