[JURIST] Australian Minister of Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin [official profile] announced Friday that the country has endorsed [statement] the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [text, PDF]. The move reverses the position of the country's former administration on the declaration. Macklin said the decision by the country's current Labor Party [official website] government to sign the declaration was rooted in its desire to improve relations with the nation's indigenous people:
Today we celebrate the great privilege all Australians have to live alongside the custodians of the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We recognise the right of Indigenous Australians to practise, revitalise and sustain their cultural, religious and spiritual traditions and customs. We celebrate the vital positive contribution of Indigenous culture to Australia. And we honour Indigenous Australians who so generously share their culture, knowledge and traditions. We pay tribute to them, to their ancestors and the generations to come. In supporting the Declaration, Australia today takes another important step towards re-setting relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Working together to close the gap.The declaration seeks to negate past wrongs to indigenous people worldwide by ensuring equal enjoyment of the laws in each member nation and by prohibiting state sanctioned racial discrimination, forced removal from native lands, and forced assimilation into mainstream national culture.
When the declaration was adopted by the UN [JURIST report] in 2007, Australia was among the four member states that declined to endorse the treaty. Former prime minister John Howard [JURIST news archive] said [speech text] the his Liberal Party [official website] led administration believed the declaration would cause a national regression into a climate of "victimhood." Current Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd [official website] has championed the cause of improved living conditions for and relations with Australia's indigenous population since his election last year. In February 2008, he issued an official apology [statement text] for past mistreatment to the nation's indigenous population on behalf of the federal government. Last month, he reaffirmed [statement text] the administration's goals.