Australia defends 'discriminatory' Aboriginal plan
28/08/2009

Australia on Friday defended its controversial "intervention" in remote Aboriginal communities after a UN representative said it discriminated against the impoverished ethnic group.

Aboriginal child Leam Robertson in Alice Springs. Australia has defended its controversial "intervention" in remote Aboriginal communities after a UN representative said it discriminated against the impoverished ethnic group.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin accepted some parts of the two-year-old crackdown were contentious, including the restriction of welfare payments and alcohol bans in dozens of desert townships.

But she refused to be swayed by harsh criticism from UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights James Anaya, who said racism was "entrenched" in Australia.

"We as a government and as a country have to confront the realities of indigenous people, particularly in remote parts of Australia," Macklin told reporters.

Former Prime Minister John Howard suspended the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory in 2007 as he sent troops and police to help curb alcohol-fuelled sex abuse and domestic violence in isolated desert communities.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has refused to scrap the policy since taking office, despite issuing a historic apology for the wrongs suffered since white settlement in 1788.

Macklin said the government's priority was to protect the rights of indigenous children, who are subject to high levels of abuse.

"Many of these families tell me it's putting food on the table for their kids that used to be spent on grog (alcohol)," she said.

"I don't think anyone could disagree that that isn't a good thing."

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International backed Anaya's assessment of the intervention, saying Australia was stigmatising Aborigines and failing to fulfil its human rights obligations.

"We share the UN's concern that the way the Northern Territory emergency response in indigenous communities has been implemented does not fulfil Australia?s international human rights obligations," said Amnesty indigenous rights advocate Rodney Dillon.

"It's the government's responsibility to provide health care and education to all its citizens. Stigmatising Aboriginal people further will not help Aboriginal children's health and education outcomes or improve safety in communities," he added.

Dillon also supported Anaya's calls for the Racial Discrimination Act to be reinstated in the Northern Territory and said the blanket approach to welfare management in 73 desert townships should end as a matter of priority.

The government has said it plans to reintroduce the Act into parliament later this year.

Aborigines make up 2.5 percent of Australia's 21 million population and suffer disproportionate rates of infant mortality, health problems and suicide.

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