Indigenous Law Bulletin
By Stuart Coulson, Sophie Redmond and Lauren Schulman
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Western Australia recorded an almost 25 per cent increase in Indigenous prisoners last year. The average number of Indigenous prisoners increased from 785 in 1998 to 977 in 1999.
The Full Bench of the Federal Court in Anderson v Wilson  FCA 394 ruled that native title may exist on almost all NSW pastoral leases, which cover 40 per cent of the State.
The Law Council of Australia issued a press release warning the Prime Minister that the provision of funding for diversionary conferencing of juvenile offenders in the Northern Territory is not an alternative to the Federal Government overriding and preventing mandatory sentencing in all states and territories.
Prime Minister John Howard said ‘sorry’ to Indigenous people affected by his Government’s refusal to acknowledge the term ‘stolen generation’.
The Commissioners of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission voted unanimously to accept Prime Minister John Howard’s invitation to dinner at The Lodge. At dinner, the Commissioners’ lobbied the Prime Minister to recognise ATSIC as the key advisory body on Aboriginal affairs.
Grand Chief Charles Fox, of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation in north-western Ontario, Canada told a Canberra conference of Indigenous Australians that he believed Aboriginal self-government was inevitable in Australia. He said that Indigenous peoples and government need to develop partnerships.
Five members of the Dalungbara tribe from Fraser Island filed a writ in the High Court seeking $290,000 damages for wrongful seizure of turtle-meat by Queensland National Parks and Wildlife officers. The turtle-meat was intended to feed guests at the wake of an uncle.
Justice Margaret Nyland of the South Australian Supreme Court struck out what may be the last legal bar to the construction of the Hindmarsh Island bridge. Ngarindjeri Aborigine, Darrell Sumner, sought to stop the project by claiming the bridge construction was part of a long history of genocide against Ngarindjeri and had caused them serious mental harm. He also argued that developers had been given no consent to occupy Aboriginal land and had not consulted Aborigines over the bridge. Justice Nyland said a distinction had to be drawn between the legal responsibility and the social responsibility of other Australians to help solve problems.
New Commonwealth legislation to better protect the environment and conserve Australia’s biodiversity comes into force on 16 July 2000. One of the objects of the new Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) is to recognise the role of Indigenous people in the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of Australia’s biodiversity. An Indigenous Advisory Committee to advise the Commonwealth Environment Minister will be established in order to achieve the objects of the Act.
The Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Senator Nick Minchin, confirmed that the former Maralinga atomic test site is safe for future use by the Maralinga Tjarutja traditional owners.
The Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal awarded islanders from a former nuclear test site compensation of $5.53 million, in a case which has run more than 10 years. The Enewetak Atoll compensation award sought to address the islanders’ hardships in exile and future loss of use of their home atoll, as well as the cost of clean-up and resettlement. However the Tribunal does not have the funds to actually deliver the compensation to the islanders. The Tribunal only has a limited amount of funds which it has already used up on more than 1600 personal injury awards since the early 1990s.
Federal Court Justice Christopher Carr in Hicks v Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (Inc)  FCA 544 found a perception of bias by the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia when it refused to fund a Pilbara native title case which opposed its own clients’ claim. Justice Carr said there was no actual bias but any fair-minded observer might think the ALS lawyers were not able to act impartially when deciding if funds should be allocated. He said that independent legal advice would have avoided any questions of perceived bias.
Northern Territory Supreme Court Justice Dean Mildren granted bail to an Aboriginal man who feared being ‘sung to death’ in jail if he was not allowed to receive traditional punishment from the deceased’s relatives. Clifford Ebatarinja, 39 years, is charged with causing the death of his de facto wife. Justice Mildren accepted expert evidence that Ebatarinja was suffering high anxiety in custody, and that there was a chance his health would suffer if he was not let out on bail.
The Western Australian Government and Opposition agreed to introduce new laws which empowered police to arrest anyone suspected of being intoxicated in a public place. The President of the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA, Glen Colbung, said the Protective Custody Bill 2000 signalled a return to failed policing techniques of the past which had been rejected by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation’s Declaration Towards Reconciliation was launched at the Sydney Opera House. In his speech, Prime Minister John Howard did not take the opportunity to say ‘sorry’ to the Stolen Generations. His speech was drowned out by shouts of ‘say sorry’ and others in the audience protested by turning their backs on him.
An estimated 250,000 people marched across Sydney Harbour Bridge in a massive show of support for reconciliation. Prime Minister John Howard did not take part in the walk. A number of Aboriginal leaders claimed the high turnout provided a mandate for a treaty between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia as the next challenge in the reconciliation process.