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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

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Law in Focus: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples To what extent does the state recognise Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders? Until the 1960s, indigenous Australians - Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders - were denied rights and access to the legal system and excluded from formal participation in the political process. They were not counted in population censuses, were not allowed to serve on juries nor give evidence in court. Mostly, the government treated indigenous people as if they didn't exist. In 1962, indigenous people were given the right to vote in Commonwealth elections, and gradually things began to change and laws made by the states in years past were repealed or amended. However, it was not until the 1967 referendum that indigenous people were granted the right to vote and be counted in censuses. Today, even though many of the legal barriers to equality for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have been removed, it is arguable that the indigenous population still do not enjoy the same status under the law as non-indigenous Australians do in practice. They are, however, recognised lawfully by the state under civil law, criminal law, international law as well as their own indigenous customary law. Civil Law Historically, indigenous Australians had virtually no access to the legal system, and were regarded as minors by the civil law, so their legal rights were restricted. In Queensland in 1962, indigenous Australians could not enter into contracts, withdraw money from their bank accounts, start a business or make wills without official permission. In terms of their employment status under the law, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders were not paid award wages and suffered from exploitation and discrimination. For example, an indigenous worker was considered to be only "half" a non-indigenous worker. The court's attitude often reflected these views. Today, indigenous people are legally entitled to the same rights - such as the same award wage - as non-indigenous Australians, although that does not mean that indigenous people enjoy the same employment status as their non-indigenous counterparts. ...read more.


Subsequently, the unemployment rate for indigenous Australians is higher than that of the indigenous population. In 2001, the unemployment rate for indigenous adults was 23.0%, in comparison to 7.4% for non-Indigenous adults. This rate has improved since 1994 (when Indigenous unemployment was 27.8%) but has deteriorated since 2000 when Indigenous unemployment was 17.6%. many of these high unemployment rates stem not only from racial prejudice against the indigenous population, but is also tied in to the poor and/or incomplete education that much of this population receive. Tied in with the unemployment rate, the average weekly income for Indigenous people is also far lower than the average income for their non-indigenous counterparts. Indigenous people aged 15 and over earn only $231 a week on average: only 60% of the average non-Indigenous weekly income in the same age group ($387). As a subsequent result, only 32% of Indigenous people own or are buying their own homes compared with 71% of non-Indigenous Australians. This obviously has a lot to do with the vast gap between wages between the two groups. It causes many problems when it comes to comfortable living and quality of life. An estimated 13% of Indigenous people living in remote communities live in temporary dwellings, including tin sheds, caravans and 'humpies'. 17.8% of Indigenous households were overcrowded by accepted Australian standards, compared with 3.8% of other Australian households. Due to this overcrowding and low income, poor maintenance is also to be expected. A survey of 1,216 Indigenous communities with a population of 50 or more found that 48% had reported sewerage system overflows or leakages in the 12 months prior to the survey. Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders also face many problems when it comes to trouble with the law and domestic violence. Nationally, The proportion of prisoners who were Indigenous rose from 14% in 1992 to 20% in 2002. also on a national level, the imprisonment rate for Indigenous adults in December 2002 was 16 times higher than that for non-Indigenous adults. ...read more.


Even those who are raised in that area - and spend their formative years being exposed to those stereotypes - yet later move away (and perhaps meet indigenous people who are very different from "that") often keep that mindset with them for the rest of their lives, whether they want to or not. One example of a successful non-legal mechanism being used to address the needs of indigenous Australians was the campaigning and lobbying - and not just from indigenous Australians - that took place before - and then during - the 1967 referendum over whether or not Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders should have the right to vote. The country voted "Yes" by an incredible landslide: more than 90% of non-indigenous Australians wanted indigenous people to have the right to vote. The lobbying that went ahead to push the government into holding the referendum - and then convincing many a non-indigenous person that their indigenous counterparts should have the right to vote as they did - was incredibly successful. The subsequent petitions produced with thousands of signatures on each and pressure from the public and various non-government organisations (NGOs) convinced the government that it was time to hold a referendum. Other such lobbying and picketing that have been successful in recognising the needs of the indigenous population were the massive marches that took place when it came to demanding the government recognise the land rights of indigenous people. While land rights were really not officially won until 1992 with the Mabo vs. QLD case, the protests and lobbying gained the publics attention, and made non-indigenous Australians sit up and take notice of the situation - if they weren't already aware of it. One of the things which made the land rights lobbying so successful was that, like when indigenous people were campaigning for their right to vote, it was not just indigenous people marching for their rights: non-indigenous Australians of all different socio-economic, racial, cultural and religious backgrounds marched with them. ...read more.

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