Oct 20/97: Olympic Games boycott warning



Sydney Morning Herald
Monday, October 20, 1997
Geoff Parish - Johannesburg; Christopher Henning - London

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only. It may contain biased and distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context.]

A visiting Aboriginal delegation has told the South African Government that proposed amendments to Australia's Native Title Act are "racist" and out of step with international trends which enshrine human rights for indigenous people.

The same delegation has won sympathy from a cross-party group of British parliamentarians, who have written to the Australian Prime Minister, Mr Howard, warning that present proposals may spark a boycott of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

The delegation from the National Indigenous Working Group met officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pretoria on Friday, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh, starting next Friday.

They want the South African Government to raise their concerns with Mr Howard at the CHOGM meeting.

"We came here to brief the South African Government with the idea in mind that someone had to make an approach directly to the Australian Government. The purpose of briefing people was to make sure they understood what the issues were and we came away pretty pleased with that," said the legal manager of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, Mr Michael Mansell.

The delegation said they had received a "very good hearing" from the departmental officials but were given no commitment that the matter would be taken up with Mr Howard.

Asked whether they had deliberately set out to embarrass the Australian Government abroad, Mr Mansell replied: "Of course we are - that's the whole point of it.

"You can't embarrass someone if they've got nothing to hide."

The international campaign includes visits to the United Nations in Geneva, the European Parliament, the British Parliament and other forums.

The delegation believes the proposed 10-point plan to amend the Native Title Act takes Aboriginal land rights back to "pre-Mabo days" and are dismayed at what they regard as the Government's "non-negotiable" position.

In a letter to Mr Howard, the British Parliament's Human Rights Group, comprising MPs from all main parties, criticised the Australian Government's stance on native title.

The MPs express concern over the Australian Government's "somewhat destructive course" in relation to the reconciliation process.

The letter, signed by the group's chairman, Ms Ann Clwyd, and vice-chairman, Mr Jeremy Corbyn, calls on Mr Howard to withdraw the proposed Native Title Amendment Act, and negotiate with Aborigines to ensure that any future legislation respects the High Court's decision in the Wik case.

"Our concerns are quite fundamental," the letter says. "Australia is well known as being a signatory to international agreements protecting human rights, not the least of which is the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Did not Australia play a leading role in the drafting of this document? Surely the proposed Native Title Amendment Act is incompatible with this Declaration?"

Recalling the Aboriginal tent embassy protest of the late 1960s, the letter says: "Let us avoid a repeat of an Aboriginal tent on the front lawns of Parliament House in Canberra, or more significantly, a potential boycott of the Olympic Games in the year 2000 in Sydney."

The Parliamentary Human Rights Group has vice-chairmen from all main parties, including the former Conservative minister Sir Peter Lloyd, and Lord Avebury, a Liberal Democrat peer.

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