Indigenous Law Bulletin
compiled by Catherine Hunter
A panel to administer the repayment of ‘stolen wages’ by the New South Wales Government will begin investigation of claims on 1 July. The panel seeks to provide reparations for those affected by the Government’s policy of collecting and managing the wages, pensions and compensation payments of Indigenous people until 1969.
Levels of crime in Darwin have prompted Indigenous elders to call for the reintroduction of traditional Aboriginal laws and forms of ‘payback’ punishment. Alternative forms of justice have already been successfully implemented in Indigenous communities. In Nowra, New South Wales, the average monthly number of criminal cases has been reduced from 40 to 14 in the three years since the introduction of ‘circle sentencing’.
Native Title has been granted to the Yankunytjatjara people over parts of a cattle station in the north-west of South Australia. The title permits traditional owners to visit the land and to carry out their cultural practices such as hunting, camping and collecting plants for traditional medicine and will allow future generations to maintain a link with the land. However, the title does not extend to ‘improvements’ made by the leaseholders of the station, such as houses and dams.
A 15-year-old Aboriginal boy has been incarcerated under Western Australia’s ‘third strike’ system for attempting to steal an icecream. The boy had been placed on 12-months’ probation for previous aggravated burglary offences when he committed this latest crime. When police refused to give him bail, he was taken from his home town of Onslow to Karratha where he stayed overnight in a police station. He attended court the following day and was remanded to appear in Perth. He was taken by police escort to Perth where he was held in a juvenile detention centre. In court, he pleaded guilty but was sent home without additional sanctions. This case has been seen to highlight the over-policing of Indigenous youth. The youth does not have family support in the town.
More than three years of negotiations between Argyle Diamond Mine (wholly owned by Rio Tinto) and the Gija and Miriwoong peoples has resulted in a landmark agreement expected to benefit Indigenous peoples by more than $50 million. Argyle have agreed to increase the proportion of their Indigenous workforce from 25 to 50 per cent to reflect the demographic of the area. The agreement will bring other benefits including access for traditional owners, protection of sacred sites, support for transfer of the Argyle Pastoral Lease into Native Title when the mine closes in 2024, and training and contracting opportunities.
With the disbandment of ATSIC at the end of June, Indigenous peoples in Victoria were to be left with no direct representation. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gavin Jennings has announced a series of regional consultations as a first step in establishing a new representative body in the State.
Concerns regarding Aboriginality for the purposes of land management in Tasmania resulted in delays to the election of members to the Aboriginal Lands Council. In response, an amendment to the Aboriginal Lands Act 1995 (Tas) was adopted setting out three criteria to define Aboriginality: Aboriginal ancestry, self-identification and community recognition. However, this process has been criticised as having been undertaken without consultation with Indigenous communities.
The Nyungah Circle of Elders in Western Australia has criticised the introduction of police powers to ‘move along’ people from public places as part of a continuing abuse of the rights of Indigenous people in the State. The Elders believe the law prevents Indigenous peoples from meeting in traditional ways. They have called for an international commission of inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous peoples under state and federal governments.
At the town lauded earlier this year for its adoption of the ‘no pool, no school’ approach recommended by the Federal Government, Wadeye residents are considering legal action over a lack of educational services. A study by Professor John Taylor of the Australian National University demonstrated that for every dollar used in the education of an average Northern Territory child, only 54 cents is being spent on children’s education in Wadeye. Community elders have sought the assistance of law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler and the Castan Law Centre at Monash University who will undertake a study to investigate possible violations of human rights in the community.
Report 403: Access of Indigenous Australians to Legal Services, the result of an Inquiry by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit of the Federal Parliament into legal services for Indigenous Australians, was tabled in Parliament. This report was begun in March 2003, involved public consultations across Australia and included community-based preventative measures.
The Western Australian branch of the Liberal Party put forward a motion to debate changing native title legislation in the Federal Council on 22 and 23 June. The motion called for changes to the Wik legislation to make it more ‘user-friendly’ for local governments, pastoralists and miners, and less ‘open to abuse’ by claimants.
Funding for Indigenous programs in 2005-6 has been announced by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Amanda Vanstone. The $660 million has come from the funds previously administered by ATSIC and ATSIS. The Minister also announced 24 Shared Responsibility Agreements with Indigenous communities. She said that the agreements were indicative of Indigenous peoples’ support of the Government’s approach of working directly with communities.
The Mungullah community in Carnarvon has agreed to a Shared Responsibility Agreement in which more than $650,000 has been set aside to build a sports oval and a community hall. The agreement requires the community to assist with construction and to implement a policy to prevent children from using the hall or oval unless they attend school.
New South Wales Senator Aden Ridgeway, the second Indigenous person to serve as a Federal Senator, gave his valedictory speech. When his term expires on June 30, there will be no Indigenous representation in Federal Parliament. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, congratulated Mr Ridgeway on his achievements in ensuring issues of concern to Indigenous peoples were brought to the attention of Parliament and in fighting for reconciliation. Mr Calma called for strategies to increase the participation of Indigenous people in Parliament. He congratulated the election in the Northern Territory of five Indigenous Ministers this month.
Finance Minister, Nick Minchin, endorsed the motion passed by the Liberal Party’s Federal Council to change native title legislation. He claimed that the current system delays mining exploration; however, this did not have the support of the mining industry. The Chief Executive of the Minerals Council of Australia, Mitch Hooke, responded that the industry was not interested in taking away the rights that Indigenous Australians have established in this area.