Indigenous Law Bulletin
by Garth Nettheim
The Ngaarra Legal Forum was held on 23-24 August 2001 as part of this year’s Garma Cultural Festival at Gulkula in north-eastern Arnhem Land. Many of those attending camped at the site; others commuted from the nearby town of Nhulunbuy.
Galarrwuy Yunupingu arrived for the opening accompanied by Clare Martin, newly elected as Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, together with the four Indigenous members of the new ALP government – John Ah Kit, Marion Scrymgour, Matthew Bonson and Elliott McAdam. Ms Martin reaffirmed her commitment to repeal the Territory’s mandatory sentencing legislation.
Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM and Dr Mandawuy Yunupingu of Yothu Yindi Foundation welcomed the 80 or so people who were attending the Forum. The response on behalf of the Australian legal community was delivered by the Hon Chief Justice Black AC of the Federal Court of Australia. The focus for the Forum related primarily to criminal justice issues affecting Aboriginal people and the role of Aboriginal law in relation to the Australian legal system.
The plenary sessions and the workshops allowed interaction between Indigenous people, organisations concerned with law matters and people with responsibilities within the Australian legal system. Plenary sessions included reports from community leaders on the criminal justice system; discussion on the ongoing evolution of the judicial system and administrative practice in dealing with Indigenous Australians; the interaction of criminal justice and Indigenous law; national and Northern Territory perspectives on the criminal justice system; and options for reducing arrest and imprisonment rates. The two workshop sessions produced a number of recommendations and the Forum concluded with the presentation of a Conference Statement.