NAIDOC Week Lunch Reception at The ATENEO Law School
Remarks by Ambassador Rod Smith
5 July 2011
I would like to thank you all for joining us here today to celebrate the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee or NAIDOC Week.
NAIDOC Week is an annual event that celebrates and promotes the culture, history and achievements of Australia’s Indigenous people.
It is one of the great celebrations in the cultural life of our country, one that honours our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and embraces and rejoices in their contribution to Australian life.
Each year, a theme is chosen to reflect the important issues and events for NAIDOC Week.
The 2011 National NAIDOC theme is CHANGE: THE NEXT STEP IS OURS.
It is about taking responsibility for our future – to plan the change we need and take action to make it happen.
I am very pleased that we have today Professor Megan Davis who will later address students, faculty and guests at Ateneo Law School.
Professor Davis is the Associate Professor and Director of the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of New South Wales.
She is an advocate for Indigenous issues within Australia and internationally.
She is also the first Indigenous Australian woman elected to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
While Professor Davis was nominated by the Australian Government, she will serve as an independent expert.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Professor Davis on her role at this important Indigenous forum.
I am also very pleased that she has agreed to travel to the Philippines to be with us today and to present here at the Ateneo Law School.
This afternoon’s lecture will provide a valuable opportunity to learn about Australia’s and the Philippines’ shared experiences on Indigenous issues.
The Australian Government: Towards Reconciliation
Successive Australian Governments have taken important steps over the years in addressing past wrongs and re-setting relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians: moving us towards reconciliation and a new future.
But we have to confront the reality that Indigenous Australians still – even in 2011 – face significant disadvantage compared to the rest of our community.
The Government has expressed its determination to “close the gap” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality rates, access to early childhood education, literacy and numeracy, high school education attainment and employment outcomes.
The reality is that the work in closing the gap –putting our first peoples on generally equal footing with the rest of the community, will not be easy, and will take time and determination.
But the determination is there and progress towards reconciliation is being made. The National Apology to the Stolen Generations in February 2008 was an important first step.
For those of you who are not aware, the Stolen Generations refers to Aboriginal and Islander children who were forcibly removed from their families in the misguided belief that they could be better cared for.
At the international level, the Australian Government announced in April 2009 its support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
As many of you are aware, the UN Declaration is a culmination of decades of work, and reflects the unique place of Indigenous peoples and their entitlement to all human rights as recognized in international law.
The same year, the Government provided support and funding for the establishment of a national Indigenous representative body, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples or NCAFP to help increase Indigenous Australians’ participation in democratic institutions.
The NCAFP is the first such organisation chosen entirely by Indigenous Australians to give them a voice in national policy-making.
Last month, the Government announced substantial funding for 36 Indigenous heritage projects that will help community groups and individuals identify, conserve and promote the heritage value of places important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, across Australia.
These are just some of the steps that the Australian Government has taken in its ongoing commitment to create and sustain lasting, positive changes in relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
I am confident that despite challenges we might face along the way, we are on a firm path towards reconciliation.
Partner to the Philippines
The Australian Government’s commitment to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is also reflected in our partnership with the Philippines.
Over the years, we have provided strong support to Filipino Indigenous peoples, through livelihood and education projects, and the promotion of their culture and heritage.
In the last five years, the Australian Government’s Direct Assistance Program has supported 22 projects across the country, from Kalinga down to Sultan Kudarat.
We have supported cultural projects, such as preserving the endangered craft of handloom weaving among Maranao women.
We have also supported livelihood projects such as providing post harvest facilities for the Maguindanaoan, T-boli, and Manobo coffee farmers of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato.
But our most significant contribution has been in the area of education.
The Australian Government’s Basic Education Assistance for Mindanao (BEAM) program, in collaboration with organisations such as the Department of Education and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, established centres for the promotion of indigenous culture.
The Institute for Indigenous Peoples Education (IIPE) and the Centre for Indigenous Peoples Education (CIPE), supported by the Australian government through AusAID, have developed a curriculum for public and private schools that emphasises culturally-sensitive indigenous education.
The new curriculum is now being taught at 185 elementary and secondary schools in Regions 11 and 12, providing a higher standard of education to over 34,000 children across 12 different tribal groups.
BEAM support has also included the building and equipping of over 236 tribal/community learning centres to provide functional literacy and livelihood classes for parents and out of school youth. From 2001 to 2010, Australia provided over 2 billion pesos (over AUD$53million) to the program.
Following the successes and lessons learned under BEAM, Australia launched a new Muslim and IP-focused education program.
Our support to the Department of Education’s Philippines Response to Indigenous and Muslim Education (PRIME) program will scale up, and introduce to other regions, many of the innovations introduced through BEAM.
Australia is pleased to be a founding partner of PRIME, and we will be providing PHP880 million (A$20 million) from 2011 to 2014.
This continuing effort is proof of Australia’s steadfast commitment to the Philippines’ Indigenous communities in particular and the larger society in general.
I look forward to greater engagement and dialogue between Australia and the Philippines on many common interests including those on Indigenous issues.
I believe that an important feature of the Australia-Philippines relationship is the strength of our people-to-people links, and the deeper understanding that grows from that.
Thank you for your presence today at the NAIDOC week celebrations. I hope you enjoy the lecture later.