Towards Formal Recognition
In the 20 years following the enactment of the Welfare Ordinance 1953 (NT), Australia was pressured by criticism both within Australia, and internationally, to remove racial discrimination from its state and federal statutes and grant equal legal status to Aboriginal people throughout the country (Chesterman, 2005). The enactment of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) signalled symbolically, if not practically, the end of the assimilation era. After 1975, and especially between 1990 and 2007,1 Australian law occasionally and unsystematically recognized the distinct rights of Indigenous Australians. The introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act and the development of the land rights movement focused attention on questions of sovereignty and dispossession, questions increasingly raised by Australian Indigenous peoples, both Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Self-determination replaced assimilation as the policy framework from the 1970s and the maintenance of cultural integrity became a key aspiration associated with the policy (McHugh, 2004, p. 341). In 1987, a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the deaths of 99 Aboriginal people who had died in custody from 1980 to 1989. The Commission found that ‘facts associated in every case with their Aboriginality played a significant and in most cases dominant role in their being in custody and dying in custody’ (Johnston, 1991, p. 1).
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