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Saturday, 25 March, 2000, 06:02 GMT
Australia rejects UN racism report
James Wurramara
Aborigine James Wurramara was jailed for stealing biscuits
The Australian federal government has dismissed a United Nations report on racial discrimination against Aborigines, calling it unbalanced and inaccurate.

A UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination published a report on Friday criticising Australia for failing to override mandatory sentencing laws in effect in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

These laws require that repeat offenders be jailed even for trivial crimes, and human rights campaigners say these target the kind of offences committed by Aborigines.

The UN report said the mandatory sentencing laws could be in breach of the UN convention on the elimination of racism.



The committee should reconsider its report and take a more balanced perspective

Attorney-General Darryl Williams
But Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said on ABC radio on Saturday morning that the committee's report seemed to rely exclusively on information from non-government organisations.

He also accused the UN committee of intruding unreasonably in domestic Australian affairs.

He was backed up on ABC radio by federal Attorney-General Darryl Williams, who also said that the report was not balanced.

"It puts in question the credibility internationally of the committee. The committee should reconsider its report and take a more balanced perspective," Mr Williams said.

'Well-founded'

But opposition Aboriginal affairs spokesman Daryl Melham called on the federal government to override the laws in light of the UN's criticism.

He said he believed the report was factual and balanced and made well-founded criticisms of the incarceration rates of indigenous Australians.

"I think they have to do that because what's happening is Australia's reputation is being sullied internationally," he said.


Prime Minister John Howard
PM John Howard insists federal government should not intefere
The mandatory sentencing laws came under renewed criticism last month in Australia when a fifteen-year-old Aborigine committed suicide after being jailed for 28 days for stealing stationery.

Opponents of the laws say such young offenders should not be jailed, but the state governments involved have said they will not alter their sentencing procedures.

Earlier in March, Australia's Senate passed a bill overturning the mandatory sentencing laws. But it is expected to be rejected in the lower house of parliament where Prime Minister John Howard's conservative coalition government has a 12-seat majority.

The prime minister has said he does not approve of the laws but insists that the federal government should not interfere.

Australia has until October to respond to the UN report.

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See also:

21 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Annan skirts human rights debate
13 Mar 99 | Asia-Pacific
Australia defends 'racist' land law
04 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
High level of trauma among Aborigines
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