Indigenous Law Bulletin
Compiled by Carl D’Souza and Anna Saulwick
A review of the National Museum of Australia has been officially announced, with an aim to examining the museum’s content and performance. This follows criticism from conservatives that the Museum’s exhibits present a ‘black armband’ view of history. Some commentators believe that the review is politically motivated by a right wing agenda with respect to Indigenous peoples.
Indigenous people held Survival Day events around the country, to highlight the invasion of their lands and their people’s survival. Geoff Clark, Chairman of ATSIC, said, ‘For too many of us Australia Day will be just another day in jail, or without a job, a home, or access to decent education and health care.’
A study conducted in New South Wales and Victoria, by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, has found that many ex-prisoners find it impossible to reintegrate into society, and are worse off than before they went to jail. This leads them to re-offend and consequently back to prison. Even prisoners who serve short sentences are likely to suffer long-term consequences, including increased rates of homelessness and unemployment. The short-term prisoners studied received little benefit from drug rehabilitation programs or other services in jail, and upon release they received virtually no help to find housing or jobs. The study found that the rate of re-incarceration for Aboriginal ex-prisoners was 66 percent higher than for non-Indigenous ex-prisoners. Indigenous women were found to be the worst off.
The Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council is leading the development
of an Aboriginal Justice Plan for NSW. The Plan will provide a comprehensive framework to address Aboriginal justice issues, including the underlying causes of Aboriginal involvement in the criminal justice system. A number of regional summits will be held around NSW beginning in February. The summits are part of a community negotiation process which is shaping the development of the Plan.
A study by the Australian Institute of Criminology has found that children who experience more than one type of maltreatment are more likely to commit crime. The researchers found a distinct link between physical abuse and offending, whilst sexual and emotion abuse was not related to further offending. Indigenous children were more likely than non-Indigenous children to have experienced maltreatment, and experienced it over a longer period of time. Maltreated Indigenous children were four times more likely to offend than non-Indigenous children.
Melbourne University has discovered the bones and skulls of about 400 people, most of them Aborigines, in an anatomy department storeroom. The university has handed the remains to Museum Victoria for further identification and apologised for the ‘hurt and understandable indignation felt by indigenous Australians.’ The university is planning the repatriation and reburial of the remains.
There has been a furore over customary law in the Northern Territory. The Country Liberal Party has called for laws to be introduced to prevent people on bail from being punished under customary law. This comes after a man was punished and paraded naked before relatives of his alleged victim. An independent MP, Loraine Braham, has proposed legislation that would prevent the use of traditional law as a factor in sentences involving sexual offences against minors. This follows a court’s decision to sentence an Aboriginal man to one day's jail for having sex with a 15-year-old girl, who was his promised wife under customary law. Justice Minister Peter Toyne said that any new laws should not be piecemeal and should be considered as part of a broader review of customary law.
Up to 70 police, some in riot gear, have stormed the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra to dismantle what was alleged to be an illegal structure. Members of the embassy said the structure was erected on the Australia Day long weekend to house special documents and provide shelter from the rain. Two members of the tent embassy were arrested.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released statistics on Indigenous prisoners as at 30 June 2002. There were 4,494 Indigenous prisoners in Australia, which was 20 percent of the prisoner population. Indigenous persons were 15 times more likely than non-Indigenous persons to be in prison. Indigenous imprisonment rates decreased by 20 percent in WA and 1 percent in the NT. This was offset by an increase in the imprisonment rate in all other states and territories. Nationally, there was a 1 percent decrease in the rate of Indigenous imprisonment.
An administrator is to be appointed to the Armidale Local Aboriginal
Land Council, on the recommendation of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council. The chairman of the NSW Council, Les Trindall, says all current officers will be removed. In addition, the Armidale Council’s office will be moved out of a private home and back into an office environment where it can better serve the Aboriginal community.