Indigenous Law Bulletin
Compiled by Anna Saulwick
In the decision of De Rose v South Australia the Yankunytjatjara people have been denied their claim to native title over De Rose Hill Station, a cattle property in the far north-west of South Australia. The Federal Court held that although the claimants have retained knowledge over their cultural practices they no longer adhere to them. Therefore, they had lost their physical and spiritual connection with the land. The claimants are appealing the decision. Indigenous people have expressed their disappointment at the decision, which sets an onerous burden of proof for future claims.
A partnership between the NSW Government, ATSIC and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council was formalised with the signing of the NSW Service Delivery Partnership Agreement. The agreement was developed with the aim of achieving greater cooperation between those who provide the bulk of mainstream services to Indigenous people.
The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister announced the members of a panel that will review the role and functions of ATSIC. One issue to be considered is whether ATSIC should continue to directly administer funding programs, which involve potential conflicts of interest. The panel is to produce a public discussion paper in about six months.
The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister set out new guidelines for the conduct of office-holders at ATSIC. The guidelines explain what types of ‘misbehaviour’ could give rise to suspension or removal from office.
Queensland Premier Peter Beattie formally confirmed the offer of reparations for wages withheld from Aboriginal workers throughout the twentieth century. The $55.4 million offer has been widely criticised by Indigenous leaders as insultingly low.
Western Australian Liberal Senator Ross Lightfoot has been found liable for racially discriminatory behaviour in a civil action brought against him by Hannah McGlade of Perth. He publicly stated that Aboriginal people in their native state were the most primitive race on earth, whose culture included killing and terrible sexual practices.
A series of articles in the Sydney Morning Herald claim that the NSW Aboriginal Land Council has lost over $10 million in poor property investments and financial mismanagement. It is alleged that the Council failed to undertake standard industry procedures and acted against its financial advice.
The Western Australian government pledged $75 million to combat domestic violence and sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities following the findings of the Gordon Inquiry. The inquiry found that the occurrence of domestic violence and sexual abuse was of endemic proportions in Aboriginal communities. The promised expenditure is mainly in the form of increased police and child protection resources.
Earlier this year the Jabiluka Uranium Mine’s majority stakeholder, Rio Tinto, claimed it would not develop the mine without consent from traditional owners. The Mirrar People of Kakadu National Park are demanding written confirmation of this claim. Andy Ralph from the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirrar people, says they want more than empty rhetoric.
The Tubbagah people of the Wiradjuri Nation have concluded a land agreement with the NSW Government and other bodies. The agreement does not recognise native title but does acknowledge the Tubbagah’s traditional connection to their land, with part of the land to be used as a dedicated Aboriginal burial ground.
The Wagiman people have had 110,000 hectares of their traditional land near Pine Creek in the Northern Territory returned to them. Despite the impact of significant mining interests in the area, the Wagiman people have continued to care for their land in the same manner as their ancestors.
In the decision of Members of the Yorta Yorta Community v Victoria the High Court dismissed the appeal of the Yorta Yorta people, who were claiming native title for land and waters around the Murray and Goulburn Rivers in Victoria. The court held that the Yorta Yorta people’s observance of traditional laws and customs, through the use and enjoyment of their native title rights, had been interrupted between the commencement of British sovereignty and the present. This interruption caused their native title to expire.
The release of Keith Windschuttle's controversial book ‘The Fabrication of Aboriginal History’ sparked vigorous academic debate over its claim that the death toll of Tasmanian Aborigines in the 1800s has been greatly exaggerated by some historians for ideological reasons. The contemporary view is that European settlers perpetrated genocide upon Tasmanian Aborigines. However, Windschuttle argues this view is based on a lack of primary research and denigrates the use of Indigenous oral history.
ATSIC Chairman Geoff Clark was reappointed for a three year term by a slim margin of nine votes to eight in the ATSIC elections. ATSIC Deputy Chairman Ray Robinson was also reappointed.