Indigenous Law Bulletin
compiled by Catherine Hunter
The first native title agreement between government and Indigenous peoples in South Australia (‘SA’) was signed last Friday. The Indigenous Land Use Agreement (‘ILUA’) was successfully negotiated between the Narungga people, the State Government and local councils. This was the first agreement in SA which took into consideration both the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) and the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 (SA) and, as such, provides a process through which future agreements can be negotiated.
The National Indigenous Council (‘NIC’), the government-appointed body set up in the wake of the demise of ATSIC, had its inaugural meeting today. Meanwhile, a rival organisation is being called for. Naomi Mayers, the Deputy Chairwoman of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (‘NACCHO’), argues that Indigenous peoples in Australia have a right to elected representatives. Members of NACCHO and other Indigenous organisations are calling for a new body to be set up using the original ATSIC bill but with additional safeguards against corruption and conflicts of interest.
A report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare National Health Performance Committee revealed that while life expectancy and death rates for Australians as a whole were excellent and improving, this was not the case for Indigenous peoples. Life expectancy was found to be 20 per cent lower for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples than for other Australians. The death rate for Indigenous infants was more than double that amongst the population as a whole, and the death rate from diabetes was more than 20 times higher.
Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Liddy Clark announced the introduction of alcohol-free areas in parts of Cherbourg, north Queensland (‘Qld’). These restrictions were initiated as a result of consultation between the Qld Government and the Cherbourg community. They prohibit people from carrying or drinking alcohol or being intoxicated, and apply to both residents and visitors.
The annual Human Rights Medal and Awards were held at the Sheraton Hotel in Sydney today. The National Indigenous Times received the Award for Print Media for its series of articles investigating the ‘stolen wages’ issue. Also in the print category, Debra Jopson and Gerard Ryle of the Sydney Morning Herald were highly commended for their piece on land rights, ‘Black Land, White Shoes’. The Human Rights Medal was awarded jointly to Dick Estens from the Aboriginal Employment Strategy and Deborah Kilroy from Sisters Inside.
A hearing on Badu Island today marked the seventh successful native title consent determination in the Torres Strait in the past week. These determinations grant formal legal recognition of the native title rights and interests of traditional owners. Natural Resources Minister Stephen Robertson said that 92.9 per cent of the land under native title claim in the Torres Strait has now been recognised.
Noel Pearson and Pat Dodson have criticised the Federal Government’s policies of mutual obligation in as far as they reward parents for behaviour that is a natural part of their obligations. Pearson and Dodson, as well as other Indigenous leaders, have created a ‘coalition for the future’ and challenge the leaders of the community-controlled Aboriginal organisations to re-engage with their communities to find solutions for justice and equity among themselves.
Western Australia (‘WA’) Commissioner for Equal Opportunity, Yvonne Henderson, released the report of her two-year inquiry into public housing in WA. It called for a dramatic improvement in Aboriginal access to public housing. The report was initiated as a result of the high number of complaints of discrimination against government bodies, more than 90 per cent of which were from Indigenous people and involved public housing.
The New South Wales (‘NSW’) Government announced its acceptance of recommendations of the Aboriginal Trust Fund Reparation Scheme panel. The panel was established to investigate the ‘stolen wages’ claims of non-payment of wages and other moneys by the NSW Government to Indigenous Australians. The panel’s chairman estimates that payments would average around $3,000 and would total $15 million, far less than earlier NSW cabinet estimates of around $70 million. Claimants argue that they would, in fact, be entitled to hundreds of thousands of dollars as many have claims dating from the 1920s and 1930s, which would include interest.
Qld Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy, Liddy Clark, and Member for Townsville, Mike Reynolds, will visit Palm Island tomorrow in response to the death of Cameron Doomadgee in the police watch-house and the rioting that has occurred on the island since. The Minister stated that the visit would allow them to participate in the grieving process for Mr Doomadgee and to discuss the current situation. Palm Island Elders hope the visit will provide a forum to address problems on the island such as housing, high unemployment, education, serious health problems and incarceration of Indigenous people.
The native title rights of the Djabugay people over Barron Gorge National Park in North Qld have been granted in a consent determination, the first in the State to be achieved without litigation. The area is world heritage listed and a national park. The agreement recognises non-exclusive native title rights and interests to the traditional owners while still allowing visitors to enter the park.
Native title has been recognised in Noonkanbah in the Kimberley almost 25 years since the original nationwide protest against drilling for petroleum in the sacred site. The settlement involved a negotiated agreement and was hailed by both the WA Government and the Kimberley Land Council as significant in avoiding the path of legal battles.
The National Audit Office has ruled that, in withdrawing $11.5 million from a public account without proper authorisation, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (‘ATSIC’) breached the Australian Constitution. A second breach was identified in the method of investment of the funds. ATSIC Chairman Geoff Clark argued that the withdrawal and investment were conducted on the basis of advice from the Commonwealth’s Finance Department and were undertaken in good faith.