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    Aboriginal Ngarrindjeri elder Major Sumner from south Australia, in traditional costume, performs a ritual during a ceremony to mark the return of Australian indigenous people's remains back to their homeland, in a central London park

    Aboriginal Australians Voices Unheard, Government Takes Formalist Approach

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    Megan Davis, member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that Indigenous peoples, their communities and organizations have no place in the Australian polity.

    SALEKHARD Anastasia Levchenko — Australia's indigenous peoples are in an alarmingly poor state, as the government takes a formalist approach and leaves aboriginal voices unheard, a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues told Sputnik on Thursday.

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders that make up the indigenous population of Australia face problems such as poor access to social services, unemployment, higher mortality rates and a lack of education and political representation.

    "I think there is an overwhelming feeling in Australia that average indigenous policy is in a very bad place [condition]. There is very little consultation with indigenous peoples on policies and laws that affect their lives," Megan Davis, member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told Sputnik during an inter-sessional meeting of the forum in Russia's Salekhard.

    Davis, who is the first Australian indigenous woman elected to a UN body, explained that Aboriginal Australians desperately lack political representation, as the national Congress that they used to have was defunded by the government.

    "Indigenous peoples, their communities and organizations have no place in the Australian polity. There is no formal way in which the Aboriginal voice comes through in policy or law. They are not consulted on things that affect their lives, they are not asked how they want to live their lives," Davis claimed.

    The lack of government attention and comprehensive policies on the issue result in the worsening state of some aspects of life for Aboriginal Australians.

    Thus, according to the recent report on the progress on indigenous issues in Australia called "Closing the Gap", there has been improvement in just two indicators — childhood morality rates and basic education. However, low life expectancy and early childhood education have seen no such progress.

    "Australia is not closing the gap. In fact, on some indicators we are going backwards," Davis said.

    The Australian government takes a formalist approach to ensuring the rights of Aboriginal Australians and does not recognize the legal force of the UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. Moreover, it leaves them no choice in terms of lifestyle, aiming to force them to live like other Australians, according to the member of the UN forum.

    "The Australian government's approach is just that indigenous peoples should live the same life, as other Australians. And it is important in terms of citizenship rights and access to health, education etc., but has no regard for cultural choices," Davis noted.

    In this respect, the UN representative praised Russia's experience and, in particular, the efforts of the authorities of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district to preserve the traditions of the indigenous peoples of the North and to let them lead their traditional way of life despite massive oil and gas production in the region.

    The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is an advisory body of the organization's Economic and Social Council. It holds sessions once a year to discuss problems that indigenous peoples around the world face and to work out recommendations. The forum's inter-sessional meeting is currently being held in Salekhard in Russia's North, with the next session scheduled for April in New York.


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