Indigenous Law Bulletin
compiled by Seranie Gamble, Kaz Handell and Catherine Hunter
The second inquest into the death of Palm Island man Mulrunji has resumed, five months after it was controversially aborted when State Coroner Michael Barnes stood down amid claims of bias. Mulrunji died on 19 November last year after he was taken into police custody on Palm Island. His death triggered a riot a week later after an initial autopsy revealed he had suffered serious injuries resulting from the arrest.
Leaked internal documents of the National Indigenous Council (‘NIC’) have revealed that a series of principles for the future development of Aboriginal land were formally adopted in June despite direct opposition from Aboriginal stakeholders. The principles urge governments to change existing land rights legislation to allow for the compulsory acquisition of land where a traditional owner ‘unreasonably refuses’ a request for a private lease on communally owned Aboriginal land. Compulsory acquisition currently occurs only for public purposes where the project benefits the wider community. The NIC suggests the new principles will generate private home ownership, although Indigenous leaders, including Professors Mick Dodson, Larissa Behrendt and Geoff Scott, have described the NIC’s advice as ‘dangerous.’
The Federal Government has approved the construction of up to 25 new homes in the Wadeye community, Northern Territory, under the National Aboriginal Health Strategy, at a cost of around $9.5 million. The Minister for Family and Community Services, Kay Patterson, announced this will help to relieve the housing crisis, and will also provide work and training opportunities for locals.
A coronial inquest into three deaths related to petrol-sniffing which was to hear evidence in the Mutitjulu community of Central Australia was interrupted. The Coroner, Greg Cavanagh, was so distressed by the presence of a young person sniffing petrol at the hearing that he suspended the proceedings. The boy’s mother was giving evidence in relation to her son, and said that petrol sniffing was a serious problem for the community.
The Queensland Government has launched a campaign to encourage those eligible to seek reparations under the State’s Indigenous Wages and Savings Reparations Offer to register before the end of the year when the offer closes. The government has agreed to give financial compensation as well as a written apology to eligible applicants. To qualify, they must have been born on or before 31 December 1965. By June, the Government had awarded a total of $15.67 million to 4,188 successful claimants.
A second archaeological survey is planned to identify Indigenous cultural sites where the bypass of Coolac, east of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, will be built. This comes despite fears that lives may be at risk while construction is delayed.
The Northern Territory’s Chief Justice, Brian Martin, suspended a sentence against an Aboriginal Elder convicted of hitting and having anal sex with his 14-year-old promised wife. Legislation was passed in the Territory to prohibit under-age sex under traditional marriage. The Elder contested that his actions were permitted under traditional law and he was not aware that his actions were illegal. The Chief Justice stated that he took traditional law into account in his decision and the Elder received a four-week gaol term. The decision was attacked by Loraine Braham, an independent MP, as providing insufficient protection for the victim.
Flexible school hours and individual contracts are being introduced in the Northern Territory in an attempt to improve education levels in Aboriginal communities. The Government will sign contracts with Aboriginal communities that require children to go to school regularly. The agreement focuses on flexibility, recognising that the term-by-term, nine-to-three approach does not necessarily fit the life of Indigenous communities, and also extends bilingual education to more communities.
The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 2005 report has been released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The report revealed that Indigenous Australians die younger, have more disabilities and face much bleaker prospects in life in comparison to the rest of the population. It found that between 1996 and 2001, life expectancy was 59 years for Indigenous men and 65 for Indigenous women, compared to 77 and 82 years respectively for the overall Australian population.
An Indigenous community of Cunnamulla, in Southern Queensland, has rejected a housing offer from the Federal Government. The Queensland Aboriginal Cooperative Advancement Society stated that it had refused the offer, despite the lack of appropriate housing in the area, because the community would have been required to attend financial management courses in return for the funding. They argued the deal would have been unfair as other communities were not required to do similar deals in exchange for housing.