An article by Louise McDermott (Media Advisor in the Public Affairs Unit at the Australian Human Rights Commission) in the Human Rights Law Resource Centre Bulletin, Volume 47  – March 2010

The article summarises the 2009 Social Justice Report released 22 January 2010, and highlights Indigenous Languages as one of three key themes to the report.

Major Reports on Social Justice and Native Title Reveal More Promising Future

Recently retired Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma released his sixth and final Social Justice and Native Title Reports on 22 January 2010.

The reports recognise a marked shift in the Indigenous policy landscape since the National Apology to the Stolen Generations and suggests a more inclusive and promising future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Social Justice Report 2009 focusses on three themes: justice reinvestment to reduce Indigenous over-representation in the criminal justice system; the protection of Indigenous languages; and sustaining Aboriginal homeland communities.

The first theme outlines a convincing argument for an alternative to incarceration offered by the ‘justice reinvestment’ model, which diverts a portion of the funds planned for prison expenditure to local communities where there is a high concentration of offenders.

The second theme provides vital reading for anyone interested in the perilous state of Indigenous languages in Australia and argues that, without intervention, Indigenous language knowledge will cease to exist in Australia in the next 10 to 30 years.

The final theme of the Social Justice Report 2009 highlights the importance of ‘Homelands’ in providing social, spiritual, cultural, health and economic benefits to residents.  It outlines how policies that fail to support the ongoing development of Homelands will lead to social and economic problems in rural townships that could further entrench Indigenous disadvantage and poverty.

The Native Title Report 2009 comprehensively reviews developments in native title law and policy from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009 and considers principles and standards that should underpin cultural change in the native title system.

The Report argues for significant improvements to be made to the native title system if we are to close the disadvantage gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and to achieve reconciliation.

In his final Report, Commissioner Calma outlines principles and standards that should be used to guide a new approach to native title and explains how the native title system ought to be viewed in the context of broader reforms to promote and protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Report makes 27 recommendations for reform of the native title system concerning several key areas, including shifting the burden of proof, more flexible approaches to connection evidence, and promoting broader and more flexible native title settlement packages.  The Report also comprehensively reviews land tenure reform.

The reports can be accessed online at