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Thumbs up for indigenous declaration

Canberra has officially endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, reversing a Howard Government vote on it.

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The previous government blocked the declaration in 2007, on the grounds it would elevate customary law above Australian law.

But on Friday, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said endorsing the declaration was an important symbolic step for building trust and improving relations in Australia.

“Today, Australia changes its position,” Ms Macklin said.

“We do this in the spirit of rethinking the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and building trust.”

Key election promise

Signing the UN declaration was one of Labor\’s election promises in the run-up to the November 2007 vote.

The declaration sets out the rights of the world\’s estimated 370 million indigenous people.

Unlike a ratified treaty, it is non-binding, but is designed to be used as a set of guiding principles.

Legal expert Megan Davis said suggestions the charter would favour Aboriginal rules above domestic law were misguided.

“The declaration is non-binding and has no legal effect in Australia; there\’s no way it could elevate Aboriginal customary law above domestic Australian law,” she said.

Non-binding agreement

Ms Davis, director of the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of New South Wales, said it would be used by Aboriginal people in negotiations with local and state governments, as well as in the courts.

“Politically and legally it will be used a lot.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Tom Calma said Labor\’s endorsement of the declaration must be backed by a renewed commitment to improve Aboriginal health.

“Formal support for the UN declaration specifically protects the right of indigenous peoples to participate in decision making in matters that affect their rights,” Mr Calma said.

“The next step is to develop a comprehensive, long-term and properly resourced national action plan to achieve indigenous health equality and to do it in genuine partnership with indigenous peoples.”

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