The Emerging Role of UNDRIP – Q&A with Kristen Hodge

Kristen HodgeIn an exclusive Q&A session with Legalwise Seminars, Kristen Hodge, addresses key questions regarding UNDRIP “United Nations Declaration for the Rights of the Indigenous People”. She will also be chairing in March at the upcoming The Emerging Role of UNDRIP in Domestic First Nations Law and Policy webinar.


What is UNDRIP?

UNDRIP “United Nations Declaration for the Rights of the Indigenous People”, consists of 46 articles which record the rights of Indigenous people and their communities all around the world. Many of the articles are relevant to Australia’s Indigenous people but some important articles include:

    • self-determination
    • self-government in matters relating to internal and local affairs;
    • free prior and informed consent on matters that will affect them;
    • practicing and revitalising cultural traditions and customs;
    • maintaining and strengthening distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions; and
    • ownership and control of traditional lands and resources.

Australia was one of only four countries that initially refused to sign the declaration but reversed this position in 2009. The Australian Government went further in 2017 with a successful bid for a seat on the UN Human Right’s Council. Despite this, there has been little movement in any real changes to Government policies and actions in line with the declaration.

In May 2017, the Uluru Statement from the Heart was made at the First Nations National Constitutional Convention, which started an incredible movement for Voice, Treaty and Truth which is only gaining traction with the current labour government. This journey we are on now as country can be successful if UNDRIP principles are embedded in our legal and political system.


How is the Government’s response to the campaign for a referendum on an Indigenous constitutional recognition through a Voice to Parliament being informed by the principles underlying UNDRIP?

While Australia has been very slow to catch up with these pressing world issues, the Uluru Statement from the Heart has received strong community (and extensive support from the legal community), and the shocking destruction on Juukan Gorge has largely put the issues at the core of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities front and centre in the general population’s lounge room. This has never happened before as Indigenous issues were rarely displayed on radio and television, but now having the internet at your fingertips you are exposed to more social and political information. The fact remains, that most of the general population do not know an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person so it can be difficult to ask for empathy without exposure to our plight.

Historically Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have been pushed aside, and even now the Government continues to make laws about us, and without us. Government money and funding pours into our communities, and government consultants rock up every week to “consult” on some new plan about how they are going to make things better for communities. All levels of government do not include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the design of a project, proposal or consultation process. Despite the big statements being made by politicians, there is a failure of those intentions to be implemented by departmental staff. The government does not sit down and ask our communities what support they need.

Despite enormous amounts of government funding, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffer similar social and economic issues that are facing other Indigenous nations in the world. We are fortunate to have the oldest living civilisation known to the world here in Australia, who are so deeply connected to the land and sky have had their way of life interfered with in a way that is so destructive, and we still do not have a say about how we fix it.

We are still moving forward at least, with a commitment by the current Federal Government to value and protect cultural heritage both tangible and intangible in Australia. This includes proposals to amend or create legislation at national level to protect these interest (currently regulated at a State level with an overarching piece of Federal legislation that is rarely used).

Further, on 21 September 2022 the Australian Government released an EOI seeking individuals to be considered for the role of the Ambassador for First Nations People. The media release states that “The Government is delivering on its commitment to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, and embed Indigenous perspectives, experiences and interests into our foreign policy”.

While the detail with the Voice will come in the legislation, it is important to achieve recognition first and foremost.


What can be learnt from Canada and other places about the adoption of the Declaration on Indigenous People’s Rights?

Each community is different but the principles remain the same. This is achieved by positive recognition of UNDRIP principles into Australian domestic law. This was provided in Canada by the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIP Act). This legislation requires the laws of British Colombia to “take all measurers necessary” to ensure the laws of British Colombia are consistent with the declaration.

For this to be enacted in Australia, we would require a review of current legislation against UNDRIP and any future legislation would need to take into consideration the principles of UNDRIP. Something that has been requested by the First Nations community for some time.


How has Cultural Heritage Reform been affected in the Wake of the Joint Standing Committee Report into the Destruction of Juukan Gorge?

The Minister’s foreword to the Australian Government response to the Joint Standing Committee includes the words “There was an agreement between Rio Tinto and the Traditional Owners that reflected gross inequalities of power. And there was federal legislation that was only ever designed as a last resort – and that was confusing, difficult to access, and ultimately ineffective.”

Significant legislative change is required to protect cultural heritage sites in Australia and make legislation enforceable as this is replicated across Australia every day.


Kristen Hodge is a Wiradjuri woman from NSW born and raised on the Kalare (Lachlan) River in Forbes. Kristen moved to Queensland to commence university at Griffith University and found work specialising in native title and cultural heritage issues over the last 15 years working in the Queensland space. Kristen has represented the State Government, Local Governments, mining and development land users and Traditional Owners from all different angles and has unique perspectives as a result. Kristen currently works at the Native Title Representative Body, Queensland South Native Title Services and her passion is focused around cultural heritage and economic independence for groups. Kristen also advocates for the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and has been a member of the Indigenous Lawyer’s Association of Queensland since 2017 and was recently appointed President. Connect with Kristen via Linkedin.