Maori seats possible model to give Aborigines a voice

By Yvonne Tahana

Australians are considering how Maori electorate seats work here as their Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission builds a case for greater representation for indigenous people there.

Aborigine Tom Calma, a race discrimination commissioner who is in Auckland to speak at the Human Rights Commission's Diversity Forum, said yesterday that a new representative body was vital for the Australian Government to effect long-term positive change in indigenous communities.

Improving the living standards of Aboriginal people - who die 17 years younger than other Australians on average, have poor access to education and health services and live in overcrowded conditions - was fundamentally a human rights issue, Mr Calma said.

The United States' National Congress of American Indians, Canada's Assembly of First Nations and Sweden's Sami Parliament are other examples that are also being considered as models of representation.

Mr Calma said that decades ago New Zealand had "bitten the bullet" on many issues affecting Maori, including poor health, language and economic development.

"The investment has gone in and now you're seeing the benefits. Admittedly you've got the Treaty [of Waitangi] but without a treaty we should still be able to advance human rights in Australia."

However, whatever model Australia decided on, making sure it related effectively to federal and state governments, expert bodies, land councils and native title representative bodies would be vital to its success, Mr Calma said.

Submissions are due next month and Mr Calma wants the new body in place by July next year.

He said there was now an undeniable momentum for change.

"This time last year I was pulling my hair out but ... there's been a huge mood swing."

Mr Calma is an elder of the Kungarakan and Iwaidja tribal groupings.

He replied on behalf of indigenous Australians to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's historic apology to the Stolen Generations in February.

For a man who has worked with Aboriginal people for more than 35 years, that day remains one of his proudest moments.

- NZ Herald

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