The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is the leading international legal instrument governing the rights of Indigenous peoples. Australia endorsed the Declaration in 2009, after initial resistance, but has made limited progress in the domestic application of the principles since then.
In June 2022 EJA made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee’s inquiry into the application of UNDRIP in Australia. We believe that a genuine implementation of UNDRIP principles into environmental law should extend Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander control, access to and management of natural resources, and strengthen protection of Country.
It is critical that environmental laws acknowledge Traditional Owners’ roles in caring for Country, establish genuine procedural rights in environmental decision making and correct the historical pattern of dispossession from natural resource management.
- Reform the EBPC Act to provide greater control and agency for Traditional Owners over environmental protection, planning and approvals.
- Overhaul Indigenous consultation obligations for water management and access, consistent with UNDRIP standards.
- Establish legal mechanisms to support full, prior and informed consent as integral to consultation processes with Traditional Owners.
- Properly resource Indigenous organisations as parties to water management.
EJA was invited to make a Supplementary Submission in October 2022 addressing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in the context of UNDRIP.
We believe that broad implementation of the pillars of the Uluru Statement and its foundation in sovereignty, aligns with the Articles of UNDRIP.
Sovereignty is the existence and exercise of political and legal authority and is consistent with the various rights operating under the UNDRIP, including rights to establish and maintain institutions, self-government, relationships to land and resources, to recognition, and to consultation and consent in relation to State actions.
Importantly for environmental justice, both UNDRIP and the Uluru Statement support the self-determination of First Nations Australians which includes rights to manage and restore land, waters and natural resources. In our view, there is far greater need for statute law dealing with environmental and resource management to defer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander jurisdiction and, in that respect, sovereignty.
Truth-telling may be a mechanism by which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples exercise rights of redress, rights of revitalising culture, and the right to dignity of cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations, all concepts found in the Declaration.
In our opinion, tangible and comprehensive implementation of the principles of UNDRIP in Australian legislation, whether by the enactment of the Uluru Statement from the Heart or otherwise, is a critical step towards environmental justice for First Nations people in Australia.