Tom Calma was speaking at the launch of this year\’s Social Justice and Native Title reports.
But he said that there was much still to do and warned the global economic crisis posed a particular threat.
Last year\’s National Apology and Australia\’s formal endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples were two significant steps for indigenous communities.
It meant this year\’s reports were able to talk of optimism and progress. But they also highlighted what there is still to do. The report\’s author said equality in education had to be a priority.
“I think a lot of Australians would be shocked to know than many indigenous children, living in remote communities only have a teacher come to teach them for three days a fortnight… these children are being educated in sheds. And they\’re tin sheds with dirt floors.”
He warned against the global economic crisis being used as a reason to cut investment in areas like rural education.
“The report also looks at the effect of climate change on indigenous communities.
It points out that although have a very small ecological footprint, they are likely to suffer the most from the changes in weather many are predicting.”
Aboriginal people face huge challenges as this country becomes hotter and drier. And the Torres Strait Islands face their own challenge.
“One of the most beautiful places in Australia, it is also one of the most threatened.
Torres Strait Islanders are already noting changes including unprecedented erosion, stronger winds, land degradation, increasing storm frequency, rougher seas and decreased flora and fauna.”
There was also a call to change the Native Title Act to include an assumption of continuous association with the land – rather than having to prove that association.
But the government is in no hurry to do that.
“Major changes to the Native Title Act have the potential to create uncertainty and should not be rushed unto. Proposals for significant change also require proper consultation and consideration.”
The report was optimistic about another development though – it expects there to be a new national representative body for indigenous people by next year.