Australia's First Peoples: still struggling for protection against racial discrimination

Shelley Bielefeld, Jon Altman

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Paper published in Proceedingspeer-review


    Martin Luther King stated that ‘[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality ... Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly’.1 This quote has pertinence for any discussion of racial discrimination. Still strongly affected by its colonial legacy, Australia offers very little by way of robust protection for Australia’s First Peoples. The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (‘RDA’) is an important enactment amidst Australia’s long history of racially discriminatory legislation. During the Second Reading speech of the RDA in the Senate in 1974, Lionel Murphy indicated that the RDA’s purpose is to implement ‘into Australian law the obligations contained in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination’.2 He stated that the discrimination experienced by Indigenous Australians was ‘[p]erhaps the most blatant example of racial discrimination in Australia’.3 He referred to ‘remnants of legislative provisions of the paternalistic type based implicitly on the alleged superiority of the white race’ and founded on an assumption that Indigenous peoples were ‘unable to manage their own personal affairs and property’.4 Murphy stressed that the government had a responsibility to address the poverty of Indigenous peoples, stating ‘Aborigines are the poorest of the poor in our community. It is clear that past wrongs must be put right so far as the Aboriginal population is concerned and that special measures must be provided’.5 It was clearly the intention that the RDA would be deployed to redress these circumstances of grave injustice. Tragically, many of Murphy’s comments still have currency over 40 years later.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationPerspectives on the Racial Discrimination Act:
    Subtitle of host publicationPapers From the 40 Years of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (CTH) Conference
    Place of PublicationSydney, Australia
    PublisherAustralian Human Rights Commission
    Number of pages11
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    Event40 Years of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (CTH) Conference - Sydney, Australia
    Duration: 19 Feb 201520 Feb 2015


    Conference40 Years of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (CTH) Conference


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