The head of Amnesty International has criticised the federal Government's efforts to improve living standards of Aboriginal Australians, saying it could learn from New Zealand's dealings with the Maori.

Secretary-general Salil Shetty said the Government's "top-down externally driven" efforts to close the gap on Aboriginal socio-economic disadvantage were instead having the opposite effect.

He said Amnesty was appalled that policies had effectively "forced evictions from their traditional homelands".

"They're stripping funds for essentials services from these communities, effectively driving people away."


Shetty was to spend today at the homeland communities of Utopia, 260km northeast of Alice Springs. Far from what the name suggests, most Utopia communities are more like Third World slums.

An Amnesty report, released in August, profiled Utopia and claimed Aborigines were being driven off their homelands and herded into "hub towns" where the federal and Northern Territory governments were splashing out cash for resources and services.

The Amnesty chief said New Zealand had done a much better job than Australia. "There's a lot to be learned from them, given the way they have given Maori a voice in the political process and in decision-making," he said. "Aboriginal people need to be empowered to make their own choices."

Shetty said part of the problem was Australia's lack of understanding about the extent of the disadvantage gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. He said Australia should be able to find solutions "unless deep down we're dealing with a lot of prejudice and discrimination".