Australia restores race laws

2010-06-22 08:01

Australia reinstated race discrimination laws in the remote

Northern Territory region today after suspending them for three years to pursue

a controversial crime crackdown in poor Aboriginal townships.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin called the suspension,

enacted under conservative former prime minister John Howard but amended in

Parliament late on yesterday, a “blight” on Australia’s image.

Macklin said: “This is an important achievement. The legislation

removes what has been a blight on Australia’s reputation as the land of a fair


Disabling the legislation allowed Howard to send troops into

Outback Aboriginal towns, restrict welfare payments and ban alcohol, under a

so-called “intervention” policy condemned as discriminatory by the United


Macklin said the suspension of race laws left Aborigines,

Australia’s original inhabitants with a culture stretching back tens of

thousands of years, feeling “hurt, betrayed and less worthy than other


She said: “Reinstating the RDA (Race Discrimination Act) restores

dignity and helps Indigenous Australians to take ownership of their lives and to

drive change in the Northern Territory.”

Aborigines are believed to have numbered around one million at the

time of white settlement, but there are now just 470 000 out of a population of

22 million and they are Australia’s most disadvantaged minority.

Centre-left Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an historic apology

in February 2008 for past mistreatment after British settlers arrived in Sydney

Cove in 1788 but refused to reverse the controversial intervention.

UN special rapporteur James Anaya in February condemned the policy

as discriminatory and said it stigmatised a group which already suffered

disproportionate rates of infant mortality, health problems and suicide.

Anaya said the intervention was at odds with Australia’s human

rights obligations and called for the race laws to be reinstated as a matter of


Macklin said on Tuesday the intervention’s measures had been

overhauled to comply with the act and reflect “special measures that help

indigenous people in the Northern Territory achieve equal human rights”.

In February, two years after the apology, Rudd conceded progress

towards improving Aborigines’ lives had been too slow, with wide gulfs remaining

in life expectancy, child mortality and health.

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