Closing Gap to Address First Peoples’ Human Rights, Equality

Oxfam Australia

Oxfam Australia has welcomed the 2023 Close the Gap coalition’s annual report which shows how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led programs and activism are helping to support health equality.

Through eight case studies, the report showcases the role of communities and youth, and has a strong focus on human rights, specifically the impact of climate change and fossil fuel projects on Aboriginal health and well-being.

The report shows how Indigenous-led Youth Action successfully campaigned against the Waratah coal mine by focussing on its impact on climate change and human rights. The Queensland Land Court supported Youth Action’s bid to prevent the mine’s approval, citing environmental, climate and human rights impacts (including on First Nations cultural rights).

Murrawah Johnson, who led Youth Action’s work, is quoted in the report saying: “This is significant on all grounds, and particularly because this is the first time that human rights have been part of the grounds for rejecting a coal mine.”

Jimi Peters, Oxfam’s First Peoples Program’s National Partnerships Lead, welcomed the report’s call for all Australian Governments to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

“Oxfam has always taken a rights-based approach to addressing inequality and this also applies to the challenges facing First peoples, especially now that climate change and fossil-fuel projects are having a disproportionate impact on their well-being and cultural heritage,” he said.

UNDRIP enshrines the principle of free, prior and informed consent for First Peoples communities in relation to proposed developments on their land. Currently, only the land rights law in the Northern Territory gives a right of veto to communities, although this applies only at the exploration stage.

Oxfam Australia is a founding member of the CTG campaign launch in 2006 and has consistently supported Aboriginal-led campaigns and initiatives. Oxfam acknowledges the outstanding leadership of the coalition co-chairs, Ms June Oscar AO and Mr Karl Briscoe.

The co-chairs said in their foreword to the report that Aboriginal leadership was pivotal to creating transformative change.

“We see it everywhere in the innovative work showcased in this report. It is not just a cultural obligation to Country, community and culture, it is the pathway to a better nation for all of us. Our Ancestors paved the way that our Elders continue to illuminate, and our young are following their footsteps in creating their own legacy,” they wrote.

The report calls on governments to do more. “Aboriginal-led service providers are leading the way but they need long-term funding rather than having to constantly apply for short-term grants,” Mr Peters said.

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