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Schwartz, Melanie --- "Recent Happening" [2003] IndigLawB 61; (2003) 5(27) Indigenous Law Bulletin 24

Recent Happenings

by Melanie Schwartz

1 September 2003

A draft review by the NSW Judicial Commission of the circle sentencing pilot in Nowra, NSW, has concluded that the program is a great success. The circles - in which offenders are sentenced by local elders, victims, family members, a police prosecutor and a magistrate - have reduced recidivism and alcohol abuse and may have solved a 200-year-old problem, the review says. Twenty-four offenders, some with more than 150 convictions, have dropped their crime habits after being punished at the circles. A second program has started in Dubbo and the circles will soon be expanded to Brewarrina, Walgett and Bourke.

3 September

Leading Aboriginal activist Warren Mundine has won the backing of

Labor's Right faction to run against Carmen Lawrence for the ALP presidency. The Right will pitch Mr Mundine, who almost won a Senate position at the 2001 election, as a forceful voice for Indigenous Australia. Mr Mundine, a cousin of boxer Anthony Mundine, is chairman of NSW Country Labor and chief executive of the NSW Native Title Service.

3 September

ONE in four Aborigines who applied for compensation under Queensland's

$55 million ‘stolen wages’ reparations scheme has been knocked back by the state Government. In May last year, the Beattie Government offered to pay reparations to thousands of Aborigines who had their wages docked under past government policies. But Aboriginal representatives said yesterday some people were being refused payments under the scheme because lost or destroyed records meant they could not prove their status. The Government estimates more than 20,000 people are eligible to apply, but has so far received only 4739 applications. So far, 1220 compensation claims have been assessed, of which 331 have been rejected. Payouts worth nearly $800,000 have been made.

3 September

Police, the Justice Department and local Indigenous legal and welfare

services have developed a new initiative in Cairns aimed at rehabilitating ‘park people’ and curbing alcohol-related violence and crime. Five offenders have chosen to go through the voluntary program since it was first introduced in July. If offenders choose to leave the program they have to go back before the magistrate and be dealt with by the courts.

4 September

An innovative Aboriginal domestic violence refuge has been opened in

the Kimberley. The Derby Family Healing Centre accommodates women and children escaping abuse, but also provides a separate area where male

perpetrators can be reunited with their families and begin rehabilitation.

11 September

Ownership of WA's national parks, State forests and marine parks could be transferred into Aboriginal hands under a plan being pushed by the Gallop Government. The State Government wants to hand over to traditional owners - then lease back - title to 25 million hectares throughout WA. Administration would be shared by the Department of Conservation and Land Management and boards of management made up of a majority of local Aboriginals. The Government also wants to legislate to allow Indigenous groups to live within the parks and exercise their traditional laws and customs and is already negotiating ownership of WA's biggest national park, the Rudall River National Park in the Pilbara, with traditional owners, the Martu. Premier Geoff Gallop said that the moves were ‘in line with Government commitments made prior to the last election and is part of our commitment to reconciliation’.

12 September

After almost 100 years the remains of an Aboriginal baby girl have

been returned to her ancestors. The baby was found in a tree hollow in Western Victoria in 1904, about 50 years after her death. She was given to the Melbourne Museum where she has been for 99 years until her return to the Dja Dja Wurrung people. The museum plans to return the remains of around 1,000 others in its collection.

13 September

The Yorta Yorta people of Victoria and NSW are preparing to lodge a complaint with the United Nations, claiming that the High Court's rejection of their native title bid denied them their inherent cultural rights. Last year, the Court rejected the 4000-strong Yorta Yorta people's claim, upholding a Federal Court ruling that the tide of history had washed away their traditional rights. Having run out of legal options at home, Yorta Yorta elders will meet to ratify the formal complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee, which will state that the law of native title in Australia now applying to the Yorta Yorta breached the international covenant on civil and political rights.

15 September

The Northern Territory Government has released its quarterly crime

and justice statistics which show that the number of Indigenous people in Northern Territory prisons has risen by 34 per cent in the past 12 months. There are 591 Indigenous people in custody, compared with 440 for the same time last year. State Attorney-General Peter Toyne says his Government is examining alternative methods of punishment and rehabilitation for minor offences.

15 September

The National Sorry Day Committee says another Stolen Generation is being created because there is a lack of culturally appropriate support services for Indigenous families. The latest figures show Indigenous children are being removed from their families at six times the rate of non-Indigenous children, and in a growing number of cases the children are being placed with non-Indigenous families.

27 September

There is renewed urgency to tackle the petrol sniffing problem in

Western Australia's Kimberley following the death of another teenager

at a remote community. It is the third death believed to be linked to petrol sniffing in the area in two years. One of the options being considered is for the community to stop selling petrol altogether and to sell aviation fuel instead. The Central Australian Youth Link-Up Service says 15 remote Aboriginal communities are now using avgas at their local petrol stations because it cannot be sniffed.

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