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The United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights claims in its Article 1 that every individual has the right to self determination. This right guarantees them the right to freely determine their individual political statuses and even pursue their social, cultural and economic development (Humanrights.gov.au 2018). The right to self-determination also states that every individual would have the freedom to dispose of their natural resources and wealth, without any obligations to hold them back. Similarly, no individual would be deprived of their subsistence. It is the responsible of the State Parties of the Covenant to ensure the promotion and enforcement of these rights, so as to comply with the regulations of the United Nations (Humanrights.gov.au 2018). In the context of Australia, the Covenant is extremely relevant with respect to the indigenous communities or the aboriginals. Back in 1970s, the aboriginal communities established several community run organizations which provided services related to housing, legal services, health care and child care. However, several theorists have opined that the self determination policies have only been detrimental to the well being of the indigenous communities. The following essay critically evaluates the statement and studies the impact of the self-determination act.
The issue of applying self-determination theory to the aboriginal communities has remained a controversial one since time immemorial. There has been a constant friction between the indigenous peoples’ desires to be endowed with such rights and the recalcitrance on the part of the government to recognize the importance of self determination for the aboriginals. The indigenous people have claimed that they do not intend to dismember the existing states in Australia. They simply want to be recognized as a self contained group, capable of managing their own resources and taking their own decisions in order to maintain their own cultures and lifestyles (Evans et al. 2015). As such, the decolonization model was adopted by the government to implement decolonization amongst the indigenous people (Sherwood 2013). Improvement of the health of the indigenous people has proven to be a challenge for the Australian government for generations. One of the main reasons for this gap in health status between the indigenous and non-indigenous communities is the fact that the indigenous communities do not have access to basic required health amenities. For instance, the indigenous communities are severely discriminated against, and have been subject to various abuses and harassment in the past. This has resulted in them becoming a largely isolated community. In Australia, most aboriginal peoples lack access to employment opportunities, basic and necessary education, health care facilities and so on (Cunningham and Paradies 2013). This has also affected the life expectancy rates of the people belonging to indigenous communities and has even increased the rate of mortality for women and children. The self determination policies which had initially promised better conditions for these communities, has failed to live up to these expectations.
Marcia Langton, a professor of Australian indigenous studies, claimed in 2007 that the imposition of self determination policies over a period of four decades has resulted in alienation, endemic poverty and abuse of the aboriginal women and children (Langton 2008). According to Rigney (2017), the concept of self determination when applied to aboriginals refers to their inherent right to manage and handle their own issues. Aboriginal communities should have the right to decide the nature and the pace of the management of their own issues. In order to exercise the policy of self determination, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act was passed in 1989. The Commissioners who were responsible for passing the act were in charge of allocation of budgets and funding which would benefit the aboriginal communities (Bainbridge et al. 2015). This was done to ensure the welfare of the aboriginal areas which were facing challenges like poor health care or poverty. The essential purpose of extending the self determination policy to the aboriginals was to help them become a self contained community of people in Australia. However, others like Cowan (2013) argued that simply development of a commission and passing an act would not be a step towards self determination. This is mainly because the Federal Government often misused or abused their power over the aboriginal communities. In other words, the factors affecting the indigenous communities’ law making powers proved to be a hindrance between actual self determination and a step towards the same (Short 2016). According to these theorists, failure to properly implement self determination amidst the indigenous communities resulted in widespread issues like scathing poverty and deplorable health conditions especially of aboriginal women and children.
Maguire (2013) claims that the aboriginal communities of Australia remain the most disadvantaged communities even after the imposition of the self determination policies. In all spheres of life, there is a clear demarcation between the non indigenous and the aboriginals. This is possibly due to the under representation of the indigenous people in the civil society. It has been found that despite the self determination policies, the health status of the indigenous communities is comparatively poor as compared to others. The disadvantage that the aboriginal Australians face with respect to health begins quite early on in life and continues to affect them throughout their life cycles. On an average, the age of childbirth for indigenous women was much less than non indigenous women. Similarly, the children born are usually of low weights and have inborn diseases. As a result, a large number of indigenous babies die at birth (Humanrights.gov.au 2018). The demarcation between the indigenous and the non indigenous communities also place the former at a greater risk of exposure to the environmental and behavioral health hazards. They also lack access to primary healthcare systems, waste disposal, safe drinking water and so on. Moreover, very little has been done in order to improve the health conditions of the indigenous people (Taylor 2013). Yet, it must also be argued that Australian governments have acknowledged the disadvantageous conditions facing aboriginal communities and have accordingly implemented a number of programs which address these challenges. These programs seek to improve the health status of the aboriginal women, offer them sources of employment and allocate funding required for their betterment. The right may be defined as the ability of an individual to exercise a degree of control over their political environments and progress towards social and economical well being. Amartya Sen had claimed that people living in a certain society or community are societal creatures, and therefore must partake in decision making activities related to social or political affairs (Sen 2017). This is applicable to the situation of the indigenous people as well. With respect to indigenous communities, there is a link between self determination for individual capabilities and for collective capabilities (Murphy 2014). Although it can be argued that the aboriginals are rarely able to exert control over their lives, with a governing body exerting external authority. This has often led to frustration, resentment and intense anger on the part of the indigenous people. In this aspect, it can be asserted that the physical and mental well being of individuals is closely related to their economic and social status. In other words, people who have higher social statuses are more likely to have better health conditions and vice versa. Similarly, it has also been found that people who have greater perceived control over their lives exhibit better health outcomes.
Maddison (2013) claims that self-determination policies with respect to the aboriginal communities are not just basic human rights. Instead, the self-determination policies serve to cater to the overall well being of the individuals. As such, it is important to discuss the benefits of the self-determination policy as well. Some theorists like Paradies (2016) claim that the problem of disadvantaged aboriginals can be solved through self-determination. It must be remembered that the indigenous communities in Australia are not a separate nation, and the nation within a nation concept that is prevalent in Australia must be discarded (ABC News 2018). In countries like Canada and the United States, the governments are following genuine policies of self-determination, which actually grant the indigenous communities some level of control over their lives (Clark and Williamson 2016). Education opportunities, employment and better health facilities are some of the employee benefits of self-determination. As a matter of fact, such imposition of self-determination has not crippled the relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. On the other hand, such relationships have been enhanced (Hunt 2013). In regions of Australia where self-determination is actually practised, a large number of diseases like trachoma or rheumatic heart diseases have been almost eradicated as far as the aboriginals are concerned. The rate of suicide and criminal activity amongst the aboriginals have also gone down with a simultaneous increase in the life expectancy rates.
Watson (2014) claims that in June 2011, the amendments made to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples took into account the effects of self determination on the aboriginal communities. It is important to understand how these rights are specifically applicable with respect to the indigenous peoples or the Strait Islander communities. According to these recommendations, the Australian governments would have to include and engage the indigenous people as part of its decision making processes. Moreover, the indigenous communities should be able to express their opinions and voice their concerns. They should have a say in the various programs and policies concerning them which would affect their well being. A democratic form of government should be followed which would allow the indigenous communities to exert meaningful control.
To conclude, it can be said that the sole purpose of having a self determination policy is to ensure that every individual, irrespective of the community they belong to, have the right to exercise control and autonomy over matters that concern them. In other words, each individual has the right to partake in decision making processes that concern their well being. For generations, the aboriginal communities of Australia have been severely disadvantaged. There has always been a clear discrimination between the indigenous and non indigenous communities, with the latter being privileged and the former being denied of even the basic amenities. As the essay above shows, there has been a discrepancy in the promises made by the government with respect to self determination and the actual implementation. However, it must also be argued that several programs and policies have been implemented as part of self determination. These policies seek to improve the existing conditions of the indigenous communities and are a step towards their betterment.
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