“Australia’s First Nations Rights Compromised: No Constitutional Recognition or Human Rights Act”

Australia, Human Rights

Article: Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner expressed deep concern over the lack of constitutional recognition and legislative commitment to protect the rights of First Nations Peoples in Australia. On 14 October 2023, a national referendum was held to recognize Australia’s First Nations Peoples in the Constitution and establish a Voice to Parliament. However, a successful campaign of misinformation led to a majority vote against the proposal.

The Australian Human Rights Commission acknowledged the Expert Mechanism’s work and emphasized the importance of implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Unfortunately, in the absence of a National Human Rights Act or arrangements to embed the Declaration into legislation or policy, the rights and interests of First Nations Australians are regularly compromised by national and local governments.

While governments support First Nations voices in decision-making through Advisory or Expert Committee structures, this cannot substitute for State responsibility to protect First Nations rights. The absence of bipartisanship and nationally agreed standards allows for ambiguity on the responsibilities to protect the rights of First Nations Peoples.

The Commission endorsed the Expert Mechanism Advice No.17 (2024) and recommended that the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples address these concerns. The Commission also proposed a national human rights framework that would provide an effective system of human rights protection in Australia, including a proposal for a statutory Human Rights Act.