Indigenous Law Bulletin
By Patrick Eyers and Carl D’Souza
The NSW Land and Environment Court has approved the development of Sandon Point wetlands in Wollongong, despite opposition from local Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Locals believe the council pushed through the development without considering environmental and heritage concerns. The Aboriginal community became involved after discovery of the body of a Kuradji man on site in 1998, estimated to be up to 6000 years old.
The High Court handed down its decision in The Commonwealth v Yarmirr; Yarmirr v Northern Territory, rejecting 5 to 2 the Commonwealth's argument that there could be no native title in the 3300sq km of sea surrounding Croker Island, north east of Darwin. The native title holders’ rights to fish, hunt and protect sacred places were confirmed. However, they lost their claim to exclusive control over their traditional seas and control over commercial operations including fishing, mining and tourism. 190 native title claims involving offshore waters were awaiting the Croker Island decision.
The NT Legislative Assembly passed a motion apologising to ‘those Territorians who were removed from their families [under the] Commonwealth Aboriginals Ordinance and placed in foster care’. Some Aboriginal leaders were critical that the apology motion did not include the word ‘sorry’. All State and Territory parliaments have now apologised to the Stolen Generation.
12 Aborigines backed by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre occupied Crown land at Eddystone Point on the east coast of Tasmania, after the Tasmanian Government called for expressions of interest from potential tourism operators in the Eddystone Point lighthouse and sandstone buildings. The Tasmanian Aboriginal community believes the Government has reneged on an in-principle decision by State Cabinet to return the Mt William National Park, which includes culturally significant Eddystone Point, to the Aboriginal people.
The newly introduced Adelaide Dry Zone law came into effect, covering the city's square mile and North Adelaide. Police will have the power to issue $167 fines to people caught with open containers of alcohol in the dry area. To stop Aboriginal contact with the justice system the Aboriginal Sobriety Group has been escorting Aborigines from Victoria Square to other locations and warning them of the dry zone.
The Kaurna Aboriginal group have lodged a native title claim covering 8160sq km from Cape Jervis to Port Broughton in SA. The claim includes public reserves, beaches, the River Torrens, the Unley Civic Centre and other sites.
Retired NSW Supreme Court judge and former royal commissioner into Aboriginal deaths in custody, Hal Wootten, told a forum in Sydney that Australia’s Indigenous community should not ‘wait to see what reconciliation might mean’, but rather that problems such as alcohol and family violence should be immediately addressed.
The Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Coalition won a third term in office in the Federal Parliamentary election. The primary vote for the Coalition rose by just over 2%, and by just under 2% on a two-party preferred basis. Labor lost nearly 3% of its primary vote. The Greens doubled its share of the national vote, while the Democrats polled poorly.
In the first industrial action of its type in Australia, six solicitors at Victoria’s Aboriginal Legal Service have stopped work indefinitely on the grounds of insufficient pay. The Service is funded by ATSIC, although the service’s management determines staff wages. ATSIC allocates only 4% of its $1 billion budget to legal services.
The Wand Report, a WA State Government review of the current native title system, found that half of the $10 million spent annually by the State Government on native title issues was soaked up in legal action. The Report also found that the 44 native title applications already heading for trial in the Federal Court of WA were more than every other State and Territory put together. The Report endorsed a system of negotiation rather than litigation to clear the backlog.
Jeremy Geia, National Indigenous Youth of the Year in 1999, declared himself on ABC Radio to be the ‘president’ of the new People’s Democratic Republic of Palm Island. The publicity stunt was an attempt to draw attention to the plight of Palm Island’s 3500 people, Australia’s largest Aboriginal community situated 35km of the coast of Townsville, most of whom are unemployed and poorly educated.
A report commissioned by the Queensland Government into alcohol abuse and alcohol-related violence in Aboriginal communities —The Cape York Justice Study — found that alcohol abuse was a precursor to violence, crime, injury and ill-health in Cape communities. The Study recommended a total ban on alcohol in certain communities if alcohol consumption were not better managed by Aboriginal councils within an interim period of three years. ATSIC Deputy Chairman, Ray Robinson, stated that such a ban would simply allow the illegal ‘sly grog’ trade in the communities to flourish.
A unified native title claim over the sea, seabed, subsoil and reefs in the Torres Strait was lodged in the Federal Court by the people of the Torres Strait. The claim will once again test the issue of native title rights to the sea.
Pope John Paul II posted an apology on the Internet to the Indigenous people of Australia and Oceania for past ‘shameful injustices’ of the Catholic Church, especially ‘where children were forcibly separated from their families’.