OXFAM REPORT: Making rights a reality
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The situation for Aboriginal people and land rights in the Kimberley is a case study in the contradictory nature of Indigenous policy in Australia. The most vulnerable Australians have to fight – sometimes for decades – to be formally recognized under law as traditional landowners, only to come up against a wall of red tape, or in some cases outright discrimination, preventing the full utilization of their land rights.
Today, Aboriginal people in the Kimberley region are calling for a full and fair realization of their Native Title rights, to enable them to care for their country, to practise their culture and secure their future.
This paper highlights four examples of how the Western Australian government is actively undermining the rights of Aboriginal landowners in the Kimberley:2 from threatening to force communities off hard-won homelands, to denying Aboriginal people the right to make decisions about their sacred sites and cultural heritage; from conservation projects that go against human rights principles and demand landowners surrender their Native Title rights, to actively campaigning against proven and popular traditional land management programmes that create jobs and help tackle climate change. The actions of the Western Australian government serve to deliberately undermine Native Title rights and interests, putting Aboriginal people at further disadvantage.
Taken together, the examples set out below reveal concerning and systemic policies and procedures that undermine Aboriginal land rights in Western Australia, including economic, social and cultural rights protected under international human rights law.
More broadly, they represent a government critically out of step at a time where there is a groundswell of interest from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians on how to confront their history and its enduring impacts meaningfully, and create a fairer, more equitable future that embraces, values and nourishes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures.