Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Essay

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

Until the 1960s, indigenous Australians – Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders – were denied rights and access to the legal system and excluded from formal participation in the political process. They were not counted in population censuses, were not allowed to serve on juries nor give evidence in court. Mostly, the government treated indigenous people as if they didn’t exist.

In 1962, indigenous people were given the right to vote in Commonwealth elections, and gradually things began to change and laws made by the states in years past were repealed or amended. However, it was not until the 1967 referendum that indigenous people were granted
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The court’s attitude often reflected these views.

Today, indigenous people are legally entitled to the same rights – such as the same award wage – as non-indigenous Australians, although that does not mean that indigenous people enjoy the same employment status as their non-indigenous counterparts. Few indigenous people take part in civil proceedings, particularly as plaintiffs. Perhaps one of the most likely reasons for this is because indigenous people often lack the financial resources to pay for legal actions.

Criminal Law

In 1991 Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders represented only 1.6% of the Australian population, yet they represented 15.2% of the national prison population. In 1994, this figure had risen from 15.2% to 19.4%, showing that a disproportionate amount of indigenous people found themselves in police custody.

In 1986, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released a report entitled Recognition Of Aboriginal Customary Laws, in which they made a number of recommendations, including the relevance of indigenous Australian customary laws in criminal sentencing. The ARLC recommended that legislation be passed to allow indigenous Australians who are knowledgeable about traditions and customary laws to give evidence about said customs and traditions, and that it be admissible to the court as evidence.

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