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Present links between one contemporary Indigenous Australian (IA) circumstance, Australia’s history and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1948)and the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples(2007)that inform change in future Essay Example

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Present Link between One Contemporary Indigenous Australian Circumstance

One contemporary Indigenous Australian circumstance is criminal justice among the Indigenous peoples. Various reports have made findings on the experience of the Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system, especially on juvenile issues and deaths in custody. In 1991, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADC) released a report on deaths in custody and the underlying sensitive cultural issues that affect how Indigenous Australians, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, access legal services (Johnston 1). The involvement of Indigenous Australian in the criminal justice system, especially juveniles, affects their access to education and other social services (ABS 1). In this essay, the paper makes a link between the effects of the contemporary criminal justice system and education of the Indigenous Australians, with a particular emphasis on the juveniles and young adults from the indigenous communities.

The Australian criminal justice system has been used by the state for many years to order, control, and monitor the lives of the Indigenous Australians as noted in the 1991 RCIADC report. Some of the devastating effects of the system have death deaths in custody, deaths in prisons, and deaths in custody-related operations or activities (Johnston 1). Further, according to House of Representative findings in a 2011 report, indigenous communities have limited access to legal representation when they are arrested and placed in police custody. Again, these reports agree that most of the arrests arise as a result of the indigenous communities trying to exercise their culture and cultural practices (House Standing Committee 1). Furthermore, the RCIADC report states that state agencies in the criminal justice system maintain files for each individual indigenous person in the country. These agencies include police, prison, probation and parole and coroner. The reports posit that these agencies and other government systems like schools, community welfare, adoption, and health care document each life to a level that few non-indigenous people’s live would be done. It is through these files that different inquiries and commissions can trace the similar patterns of state interventions in the lives of these people and how such interventions hinder their access to social service and exercising their fundamental human rights for instance right to justice, education and health.

It follows that limited access to legal representation in the criminal justice system affects how indigenous Australians access other social services like education. In its report, the House Committee states that most of the juveniles and young adults involved in the criminal justice system do not have adequate education because of their cultural background and historical marganisation (House Standing Committee 1). The report is categorical that the state should improve educational access to the Indigenous Australians as a means of preventing their involvement in the criminal justice system. The incarceration of the young Indigenous Australians has been on the increase and consequently deaths in custody have increased. In its 2011 report, the Australian Institute of Criminology indicates that between 2008 and 2009, out of the 79 deaths in custody that occurred, fifteen involved Indigenous persons, representing about twenty percent of the total deaths (AIC 1). Secondly, between 2010 and 2011, of the eight-three deaths that occurred in custody, twenty involved indigenous people; and these represent twenty-four percent or a four percent increase in the total indigenous people’s deaths (AIC 1). These statistics indicate that the involvement of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system, especially their arrests, affects their access to education, health care services, and right to justice.

The involvement of Indigenous persons in the criminal justice system and their deaths are a historical issue created by colonisation and post-colonisation policies and practices by the Australian state and federal governments (ABS 1). Colonisation policies revolve around the dispossession of these population and lack of compensation for their territories taken away from them (Gardiner-Garden 1). Secondly, the different policies by subsequent governments in a post-colonial Australia like assimilation and later on self-determination have not succeeded in addressing the inhumane conditions experienced by these people. Colonisation promoted discriminative policies that denied these people their basic human rights and access to social services. The populist policies and practices did not recognise the cultural diversity between the Indigenous Australian people and the other races, especially the majority whites. The change in these policies, right from the colonial discriminatory policies and practices to assimilation, and later on, self-determination, were enacted and implemented not based on the cultural knowledge of the Indigenous Australians, their needs and how their cultural practices could be integrated into the wider community (Gardiner-Garden 1). As a result of these ineffective policies, the contemporary Indigenous Australian has limited education, health, and legal understanding of the criminal justice system in comparison to the majority Australians. Further, they are over-represented in the criminal justice system. Further, the Australian government has avoided addressing how some of these practices like depopulation, legal control, and limited educational opportunities have marginalised these populations.

Because of these policies and practices, contemporary Indigenous Australians have been denied fundamental Indigenous People’s rights as declared by the United Nations. Article 2 of the UN declaration states that indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and have a right to be free from any form of discrimination. Secondly, Article 3 of the UN charter on their rights state that indigenous persons have the right to self-determination and are free to determine their political situation and pursue social, cultural, and economic development (UN 4). However, past policies and legislations in the country have hindered these through colonial discrimination policies and unreasonable implementation of both the assimilation and self-determination policies by federal government.

These indigenous people’s rights have the capacity to improve access to legal representation for the Indigenous Australians and improve their education as they compel the government to ensure that all people access basic social services irrespective of their social, political, and economic status (UN 4). With these rights, progressive legislations concerning these people can be enacted in the long term.

Contemporary indigenous people in the country have witnessed historical marginalization that has limited their access to many social services and impacted on how they carry out their cultural practices. As a result, many are arrested and fail to get better legal representation in the criminal justice system. However, the observance of the UN Charter on Indigenous People’s rights is essential in addressing the prevailing circumstance for these populations.


Australian Institute of Criminology. “Deaths in custody in Australia to 30 June 2011: Twenty

years of monitoring by the National Deaths in Custody Program since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody”, Canberra, web 2013. Accessed from <http://aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/mr/1-20/20.html>.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Islander Prisoners. In

Prisoners in Australia, 2012; web 2013. Available from <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/Products/A91DA889C3E80BA4CA257B3C000DCCC1>.

Gardiner-Garden, John. “From Dispossession to Reconciliation”, Parliament of Australia web

1999. Accessed from <http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp9899/99Rp27>.

House Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. “Inquiry into the

high level of involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system, Pamphlet – summary of Report,” 2011 web. Available from <http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Committees_Exposed/~/~/link.aspx?_id=B89BBE97F1DB4FC1AA37B74FDC5BDCFD&_z=z>.

Johnston, Evans. Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Volume 1, part 1.2,

“The Lives of Those who Died”, web 1991. Available from <http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/rciadic/national/vol1/11.html Optional only>. 

United Nations. “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, web

2007. Accessed from <http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf>.