Indigenous Law Bulletin
Compiled by Alex Brennan
The native title determination application of the Larrakia people has proceeded to trial in the Federal Court. Nine Larrakia families lodged a native title claim over 575 square kilometres of Crown land in Darwin and Palmerstone. The Northern Territory Government and Darwin City Council, two of a large group of respondents, have refuted the claim saying that the claimants have abandoned their laws and customs. Counsel for the Larrakia peoples, Robert Blowes, wholeheartedly denied these claims promising evidence that ‘emphatically demonstrates that there’s been no abandonment’.
The Queensland Greens have criticised the Beattie Government’s attempts to deal with Aboriginal alcoholism as being tokenistic. Greens convenor Drew Hutton said that new legislation allowing police to seize alcohol and property would lead to higher rates of Indigenous incarceration, and argued that ‘The government has chosen a police response to a community health issue’. Mr Hutton said that the government should be giving Aboriginal community leaders traditional authority structures.
Aboriginal delegates at a national native title conference expressed their resentment of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), according to the West Australian newspaper. The delegates established a national working party to provide an Aboriginal response to the Act and its problems. AIATSIS chairman Mick Dodson said that there was a general feeling of despair and a desire to design new approaches.
The Aboriginal visitors scheme that originated from the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody will suffer a 45 percent reduction in funding after overspending on last year’s budget, according to the West Australian newspaper. These cuts are expected to result in a significant increase in suicide rates as counselling to Aboriginal prisoners will decrease by over 50 percent. Denis Eggington, the Aboriginal Legal Service chief executive, said that the scheme was integral to preventing suicides in custody. An internal audit of the scheme is under way.
Delegates at the second annual Indigenous Union Conference voiced their conviction that the Beattie Government’s offer of reparations regarding stolen wages was an ‘affront to the dignity and collective interest of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout Australia’. They called on the Beattie Government to negotiate a just outcome through appropriate consultations with the parties involved. Union delegates also called for solidarity and ‘urgent and immediate action’ in bringing public pressure to bear on the government.
The establishment of Australia’s first Indigenous electoral role for upcoming ATSIC elections has sparked massive controversy over who is and who is not Indigenous in Tasmania, according to a series of articles by The Mercury. Doug Maynard of Latrobe has led the debate claiming there could be fewer than 300 Aborigines in Tasmania out of 16,000 claims. He suggests the main reason for the allegedly inappropriate claims is the financial support available to Aboriginals. A royal commission and a freeze on all funding is the best solution to the problem according to Mr Maynard. Tony Brown, a member of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council supports Mr Maynard in his call for a royal commission, and claims that the turmoil surrounding the Aboriginality debate is due to the desire of some people to manipulate the election so as to gain control of land and funding. Mr Brown believes that some members of the Independent Indigenous Advisory Committee are not applying the tests equally across the board. The problem has led to widespread anger and frustration within the Aboriginal community.
The Koori Mail reported that the Governor-General Peter Hollingworth has apologised for the massacres at Barrow Creek and handed back ownership of the land to the Kaytetye traditional owners.
The Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mr Phillip Ruddock, has claimed that the Northern Territory Land Rights Act 1977 (Cth) is in need of radical overhaul and it has not improved the economic or social position of Aboriginal landowners. Provisions in the Act make it difficult for Indigenous landowners to explore and mine on their land. There has been only one new mine on Aboriginal land in 25 years, while more than 500 applications to explore on Aboriginal land remain outstanding. The minister has introduced a bill handing over five blocks of land to Northern Territory Aboriginals. The bill, if passed, will bring the total to 69 blocks of land handed over to Indigenous people since the Act came into force 25 years ago.
Responsibility for Queensland’s Cape York communities has been handed to the Commonwealth Department for Employment and Workplace Relations in a pilot scheme unveiled by Phillip Ruddock and Tony Abbott. The secretary of the employment department will now have the final authority over problems in the community involving health, education, employment and justice. This heralds a new approach to governments sharing responsibility with communities. It is the desire of the head of Cape York Partnerships, Noel Pearson, that the new arrangement will see less government involvement in the community.