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Australian bishop defends Lambeth 'native title' resolutions

Posted on: August 8, 1998 2:05 PM

by Allan Reeder
Lambeth Conference Communications

The world's Anglican bishops have taken a stand on Australia's controversial debate over the ownership of lands claimed by indigenous peoples.

A resolution passed by the conference Friday (August 7) "expresses its concern where native title is under threat whether through domestic legislation" or other causes such as globalisation or structural adjustment programmes.

The conference of 740 Anglican bishops, including more than 40 Australians, also voted to affirm its "support for the recognition of indigenous land title."

Finding an international forum

Melbourne Assistant Bishop Andrew Curnow said it was important that the case of Australia's indigenous peoples is heard in an international forum such as the once-a-decade Lambeth conference: "Australia's track record with land rights is being looked at from around the world."

The church "is a worldwide fellowship. We are not just concerned with our own backyard, and therefore I think it's quite legitimate for the world gathering of Anglican bishops, it's a very appropriate forum for us to take this Australian issue," Bishop Curnow said.

"The passing of the motion adds more weight to the pressure that the churches will continue to keep up on all political parties in Australia and particularly the government, that what they have done is not the right way forward," Bishop Curnow said.

Report treats same concerns

Australia's track-record also surfaces in an official report issued by the Lambeth Conference, outlining the discussions of small groups of bishops along several themes during the conference.

The Lambeth "Section One" report, which draws on the Australian government's "Stolen Children" Inquiry report, states: "Recent reports from Australian government sources reveal that thousands of aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their parents and families and placed on foster homes for decades up until the 1970s in order to eliminate the separate existence of indigenous people."

After reviewing stories from Australia, Argentina, South Africa and North America, the report concludes: "In every case indigenous peoples are disproportionately poor, have little access to a good education and health care, suffer from high death rates, and in Australia and the United States are often prone to alcohol and drug addiction."

Bishop Andrew Curnow said the resolution from the Lambeth conference is an opportunity to offer support.

"Indigenous peoples, particularly at home in Australia, are looking for an expression of support and understanding from other areas of the world," Bishop Curnow said. "The churches have been at the forefront in Australia of continuing to express great concern" about the Australian government's recently-passed native title legislation and "the effect it's having on the whole reconciliation process," Bishop Curnow said.

He said, "If we go home without Lambeth saying something, indigenous peoples and particularly Anglican indigenous people will feel enormously let down."