The Guardian July 5, 2000


"Not superior or better rights, different rights"

by Richard Stone

"When I speak of indigenous rights as an Australian, I don't speak of 
superior or better rights, its different rights", said Dr Mick Dodson, the 
main speaker at the annual Graham F Smith Peace Trust dinner in Adelaide on 
June 24. He spoke of the "distinctive characteristics and identity", of the 
Aboriginal people and that the issue was about the right to an identity in 
contemporary Australia. "The concept of equality is fundamental", he 
stated, specifying that it was required for Aboriginal people as part of 
the Australian Constitution. 

The meeting hall was packed and Dr Dodson was introduced as Chairperson of 
the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, 
Director of Dodson, Bauman and Associates, legal consultants and the former 
Social Justice Commissioner between 1993-98.

Mick used the event to give a powerful address about the submission to the 
Reconciliation Council. Problems arising from documenting rights and a 
treaty were fully examined in the context of the racism and discrimination 
which Aboriginal people experience in their daily lives. He spoke of the 
problems arising from the theft of the inheritance of Aboriginal culture, 
the importance of Aboriginal languages and problems arising in the legal 
field. He stressed that there was a need for better educational facilities 
in Aboriginal languages.

Representation

Addressing the issue of the right to representation at local, regional and 
national levels, Mick spoke of the need for Aboriginal organisation and 
their empowerment in decision-making centres of australian society. "There 
needs to be indigenous participation in all planning processes", and this 
"needed to be enshrined in an agreement."

"Governments needed to respect treaties and agreements with Aboriginal 
peoples", said Mick. It was a particularly important rallying-cry for those 
pressing for the honouring of existing agreements and the need to develop 
more lasting ones which favour the Aboriginal people.

With particular relevance to recent developments in SA with the use of land 
for purposes not originally intended, Mick said: "We have a right to decide 
about our land and the development of mineral resources." Significant 
struggles have taken place in recent times in SA over the use of Aboriginal 
lands for a number of uses including the nuclear industry.

Following soon after the highly successful walk of over fifty thousand 
South Australians in May in support of Reconciliation the Peace Trust 
dinner proved a memorable event. The Graham F Smith Peace Trust has 
developed into an important organisation with considerable lobbying power 
in its own right. It annually mobilises a large number of people around a 
central peace theme and gives it a place of significance within the broader 
movement in SA.

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