High Court to hear landmark case on race discrimination and “special measures”

The High Court will today hear a landmark case on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples  rights to equality, non-discrimination and self-determination. The Human Rights Law Centre is assisting the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples to make an application to be heard as an “amicus curiae” providing information to support the High Court in the Maloney v The Queen case.

The HRLC’s Indigenous Rights Director, Ben Schokman, said it was supporting Congress so all Australians can be treated equally.

“This is an important case that will consider the content and meaning of ‘special measures’ under the Racial Discrimination Act,” Mr Schokman said.

The case will examine a set of Queensland criminal laws that apply only to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the Court will assess whether these special measures are for the ‘advancement’ of those communities.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples require that the right of self-determination and informed consent be central considerations for decisions that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“If the government is genuinely committed to making a positive difference for Aboriginal communities, it must respect and empower those communities, not impose pre-determined solutions,” Mr Schokman said. “The direct involvement of affected communities not only respects the fundamental principle of equality, but also ensures that government policies are far more likely to be effective in addressing Aboriginal disadvantage.”

Congress is being assisted on a pro bono basis by the HRLC, together with barristers Ron Merkel QC, Debbie Mortimer SC, Melinda Richards and Sarala Fitzgerald and leading international law firm Allens.

A copy of the submissions made by Congress is available here.

Further information about the High Court proceedings, including relevant court documents, is available at http://www.hcourt.gov.au/cases/case_b57-2012.


For further information, please contact Ben Schokman on 0403 622 810