Indigenous Law Bulletin
Complied by Diane Biagini, Celia Pitcher and Julian Schimmel.
Delegates to the first National Indigenous Sea Rights Conference adopted a twelve-item action plan, which includes the recognition of Indigenous peoples’ inherent rights and responsibilities to control and manage the occupation of their estates (including seas, coasts, waterways and marine life).
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission found that the Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund, a private company, had engaged in unconscionable, misleading and deceptive conduct by using symbols like the Aboriginal flag to sell funeral and life insurance policies to hundreds of Aboriginal consumers in Qld and the NT. The company was also charged with failing to adequately explain policies to consumers.
Federal Minister for Veteran’s Affairs, Bruce Scott, launched a search for Indigenous veterans and their families to ensure that they are receiving the social, health and other services they are entitled to.
IFCO Arrente Corporation, an Aboriginal building conglomerate, announced that it would work with an East Timorese refugee group to help rebuild East Timorese houses, schools, clinics and administration buildings.
The Tasmanian Parliament announced its decision to hand back 52,800 ha of Crown land to Indigenous people. Non-indigenous recreational users complained about lack of consultation, calling for their ‘strong traditions and attachments’ to the land to be recognised. On 23 October, it was discovered that three rock carvings in one of the areas to be returned had been desecrated with black paint, leading Aboriginal park rangers to raise the option of restricting access to some sites. On 24 October, Premier Jim Bacon pledged to introduce legislation to protect sacred Aboriginal sites from vandals. The legislation will include jail terms and maximum fines of at least $10,000. (But see  4(17) ILB 2).
Western Australian Supreme Court Justice Tony Templeman decided not to jail an Aboriginal woman, Catherine Josephine Friday, for killing her mother because she could face customary punishment from her mother’s family. The decision was welcomed by the Aboriginal Legal Service, who have been collaborating with the Western Australian Police, the Ministry of Justice and the Aboriginal Justice Council on a working document on customary punishment.
The Northern Land Council, on behalf of traditional owners, met for the first time with representatives of French Government-owned company Cogema Australia Pty Ltd, which owns a mining lease over the Koongarra uranium lease in world-heritage listed Kakadu National Park. Environmental and other Government approvals have not been granted. If it gets Government approval, the mine will be the third approved uranium mine in Kakadu.
Statistics presented by the Australian Institute of Criminology at a correctional services conference in Adelaide show that the number of Aboriginal inmates has more than doubled since the report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Death in Custody in 1989. In June 1998, Aborigines accounted for 18.8% of the prison population and 13.2% of deaths. In the past four years, suicide has overtaken natural causes as the principal cause of prison inmate deaths.
One third of the Strehlow Collection of Central Australian Aboriginal artifacts was withdrawn from auction when the Strehlow Research Centre served a notice on the auctioneers, Megaw & Hogg, contesting ownership of the artifacts.
Learning Lessons: an independent review of indigenous education, a report commissioned by the NT Education Department and conducted by Bob Collins, was released. It shows that the NT Government spent funds received for implementing its Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Program on capital works and to support core Education Department business. The report recommends securing a partnership between parents, schools and Aboriginal communities to improve Indigenous students’ attendance at school.
Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Nick Minchin, announced six locations, all in the Roxby Downs/Woomera area, as possible sites for the National Radioactive Waste Repository.
Construction commenced on the Hindmarsh Island bridge. A Ngarrindjeri man, Daryl Sumner applied to the SA Supreme Court for an injunction to prevent construction but his application was rejected by Justice Margaret Nyland and subsequently by the High Court. (See Updates).
The Northern Land Council, on behalf of the Mirrar people, declared a five-year cessation of talks with Energy Resources Australia (‘ERA’) in relation to the Jabiluka mineral lease. The effect of the embargo is that ERA will have to build a brand new mill on the Jabiluka site rather than build access roads between Jabiluka and its existing Ranger mine.
In the South Australian Supreme Court, Chief Justice Doyle decided that a deceased Yankunytjatjara man’s non-Indigenous defacto wife’s rights to conduct his funeral and to burial and funeral were stronger than those of the man’s father and tribe. The judge found that the defacto wife’s rights had more support in the community and in common law than the father’s ‘genuinely held beliefs’ in traditional laws.
Attorney-General Daryl Williams approved native title legislation proposed by Qld Premier Peter Beattie. All Native Title Representative Bodies in Qld have been notified and are to respond to the proposed legislation by 14 January.