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On Human Rights Day, we celebrate the advances we have made in human rights and remember the injustices we still have to redress, said Bishop Christopher Saunders, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, and Mrs Elsie Heiss, Chairperson of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council.

‘On the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, the inequalities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities are still huge’, they said.

‘We acknowledge the efforts that have gone towards bridging the gap. Too often, though, those efforts are made without consulting the people they are supposed to help or allowing them to participate.

‘An example is the Northern Territory Intervention, which was intended to protect Indigenous children from danger. But measures such as welfare quarantining have imposed bureaucratic restrictions on Indigenous people that would not be tolerated in any other section of the community’, they said.

Mrs Heiss quoted Tom Calma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, who said: ‘When you go to a local shop and there is a separate line for Aboriginal people … because of the store cards they are required to use, that is a human rights issue.’

Since the beginning of the Intervention, the Catholic Bishops have called on government to move beyond a law-and-order model to one that includes and empowers Aboriginal people.

‘Achieving justice for Indigenous people will flow from working alongside individuals and communities – not treating people like unwelcome strangers in their own land. It requires genuine dialogue and an enduring partnership’, Bishop Saunders said.

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