Indigenous Law Bulletin
compiled by Catherine Hunter
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, today released comments regarding the Federal Government’s moves to increase individual home ownership by Indigenous peoples. Mr Calma supported the initiative to allow Indigenous people to purchase their own home on communal land if they choose to do so. He also supported Indigenous Business Australia’s home ownership program, the Community Housing and Infrastructure Program good renters’ program and Community Development Employment Projects (‘CDEP’). However, Mr Calma voiced concerns about whether the Government’s proposal would ultimately result in the loss of land held by traditional owners. He recommended that traditional owners and representatives of land councils should participate in the body that grants sub-leases under the Government’s 99-year lease proposal. He also noted the lack of consultation with traditional owners in the processes. He noted that the principle of free, prior and informed consent requires the Government to involve Indigenous people in the assessment, planning, implementation and monitoring of a project which is likely to affect Indigenous people and their land or resources.
The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta council of women Elders from Coober Pedy in South Australia today launched Talking Straight Out, a book that records the story of their successful fight to prevent the establishment of a nuclear waste dump in their area. The South Australia Government announced plans to establish the dump in the desert in 1998. In response, the Kupa Piti council of women set out on a campaign to prevent the waste dump. The book is a celebration of their success and is also intended to encourage other Indigenous people to fight for their country.
The Goldfields Land Council called for the ‘independent’ review of native title law and policy, announced by the Federal Government yesterday, to include a representative of Indigenous people. The Council called for the inclusion of a representative of the interests of Indigenous peoples to be included on the Steering Committee of the review to ensure process was fair and unbiased.
Noel Pearson, the Director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, has offered his support to the Federal Government’s plans to allow Indigenous communities to enter into 99-year leases with private companies or individuals for communally owned land. He argues that while communal ownership is integral to Indigenous land rights, it is possible to reconcile this principle with transferable property rights. Pearson said that this would allow Indigenous people to be involved in the broader economy and would help them to escape severe poverty.
The Australian Taxation Office has ruled that people granted reparations through the NSW Trust Fund Repayment Scheme for the non-payment of wages, rations and pensions by the NSW Government between 1900 and 1969 will not be required to pay income tax on the payment.
Professor Larissa Behrendt, from the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology in Sydney, has warned that the Federal Government’s proposed changes to the industrial relations law are likely to significantly impact on Indigenous people, particularly those in regional areas. Behrendt argues that most Indigenous people do not have the skills to be able to bargain with an employer. This is more likely to be the case in regional areas, where there are also few opportunities for employment.
Following a successful trial in Nowra, on the NSW south coast, the concept of circle sentencing has been endorsed for Indigenous people throughout the State. Circle sentencing is an alternative means of holding a trial, in which members of the accused’s community are involved in the process and Elders assist the magistrate in deciding on an appropriate sentence. The Chief Justice of NSW, The Hon J J Spigelman AC, says that circle sentencing is much more effective in reducing recidivism amongst Indigenous offenders as a result of the increased sense of shame resulting from the involvement of community members, and the influence of the Elders.
A member of the National Indigenous Council, Wesley Aird, has advised that recipients of the work-for-the-dole scheme should not be eligible for the benefit for more than five years. He said that the Federal Government should not pay welfare for people in communities where there is no employment. Aird acknowledged that there would need to be a period for people to adjust and that ‘traditional’ Indigenous people would be likely to have some difficulties. He said that forcing people to work rather than receiving welfare would lead to healthier communities. Mr Aird said that work-for-the-dole schemes such as CDEP are a good interim measure, but people should ultimately have to seek employment wherever they can find it.