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Law in Context

Abstract from Volume 25 No 1 (2007) Rights Protection in the Age of Global Anti-Terrorism

The Integration of Customary Law into the Australian Legal System

Mr Tom Calma is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. He is an Aboriginal elder from the Kungarakan and the Iwaidja tribal groups whose traditional lands are south west of Darwin and on the Coburg Peninsula in the Northern Territory. Until his 2004 appointment as Commissioner, Mr Calma managed the Community Development and Education Branch of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS). In this capacity he worked with remote Indigenous communities to implement community-based and driven empowerment and participation programs. In 2003, he was Senior Adviser of Indigenous Affairs to the Minister of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. From 1995-2002 he worked as a senior Australian diplomat in India and Vietnam, representing Australia’s interests in education and training. During his time in India, he also oversaw the management of the Australian international education offices in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Indigenous Australians should have the right to self-determination as the freedom to live well. That freedom is in contradiction with the Australian legal system which neither acknowledges nor integrates Aboriginal customary law: a community whose control does not come from within is not free to live well. Accordingly, the Australian legal system must ease its tension with Aboriginal customary law if it is to be socially just and consistent with universal human rights. The right to self-determination is tantamount to the right to equality and equality can only come from an institutional acknowledgement of diverse customs within norms of social justice and universal human rights in civil society.

 (2007) 25 No 1  Law in Context 74-87

   
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