Indigenous Law Bulletin
compiled by Jacqui Houston
New riot laws introduced in New South Wales (‘NSW’) recently have been used to ‘lock down’ the Gordon Estate in Dubbo, western NSW. The laws regarding lockdown have subsequently allowed police to search residents of the Estate and motor vehicles. The lockdown came after trouble on New Year’s Eve in which ten people (not all Estate residents) were arrested. Some residents have spoken of police harassment and use of excessive force, which the police deny.
Peter Lindsay, Federal member for Herbert in northern Queensland, has called for Palm Island and other remote Indigenous communities in the north of the State to be ‘closed down’. Mr Lindsay blamed Island leaders for the poor living conditions and high unemployment and suggested that ‘integration’ was the key to addressing the disadvantage suffered by those who call Palm Island home.
The Federal Department of Community and Family Services has found that makeshift homes, or ‘improvised dwellings’, are becoming more prevalent due to a crisis in the funding of Indigenous housing. The number of homes classified as improvised dwellings has increased by 44 per cent within 12 months of a previous study. This figure translates to one in every 16 homes within Indigenous communities being a makeshift dwelling.
The Bar Association of Queensland has announced that it will launch a trust fund to provide financial support to Indigenous graduating law students who wish to practise as a Barrister. Currently there is believed to be only three Indigenous Barristers practising in Queensland.
The Palmerston Indigenous Village, 22 kilometres from Darwin, Northern Territory (‘NT’), has a new ‘plan’ as a result of its Shared Responsibility Agreement with the Federal Government, called ‘Voice of the Village’. Under the agreement, residents will be visited by Palmerston City Council workers once a fortnight to discuss community development. The Federal Government says that it will fund the repair of a hall and the purchase of recreational equipment but will not also repair the third-world living conditions, where an average of 90 people live in 18 dwellings.
Tangentyere Council in Alice Springs is ending its daytime patrols because the funding arrangement with the NT and Commonwealth Governments has ended. The patrols aimed to assist those affected by alcohol and other drugs and support their families. The NT Government’s response is that the Commonwealth Government should make up the shortfall in funding as they already provide $150,000 to the patrol per annum and suggest that the Council has not been efficient in its use of funds.
The Queensland Government paid out less than one third of its $56 million compensation package for stolen wages claimants. While Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy, John Mickel, told ABC radio’s AM program on 29 December 2005 that the scheme was ‘in no way meant to fully compensate’ and was ‘an offer of reconciliation’, claimants were expected to indemnify the State Government in order to receive any payment.
The Commonwealth Bank has agreed to change its lending practices in Indigenous communities in light of an investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (‘ASIC’) and the South Australian Office of Consumer and Business Affairs (‘OCBA’). Prior to the investigation, borrowers in Far North Queensland, the Torres Strait and the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands were being granted loans beyond their capacity to repay. ASIC spokesperson Delia Rickard said that ‘[t]here is a need for all financial institutions to adopt responsible lending practices’ and that ASIC had established formal reporting arrangements to ensure the Bank implements its changed procedures effectively and adjusts current loans.
A partnership between South Australian, Western Australian (‘WA’) and NT police has been launched today to use a multi-jurisdictional approach to addressing substance abuse in Aboriginal communities. Uniform laws will also be established to deal with those who supply illegal substances. As a result of the agreement, petrol sniffers will not be charged with an offence but the substance can be removed and the sniffer forced into treatment. Borders will be staffed by police to address trafficking. Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council say they’re pleased with the approach which will also see the establishment of a Substance Abuse Intelligence Desk to gather information on traffickers.
The Victorian Government has announced that it will expand its programs for child abuse prevention across the State. Deputy Premier John Thwaites said that the ‘Family Support Innovation Project tries to help families in a more holistic way, by coordinating service delivery and providing better access to different types of children’s and family services.’
More than 12 months since the WA community of Mulan signed a Shared Responsibility Agreement with the Federal Government, Trachoma rates have increased from16 per cent to 58 per cent of the population. Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (‘ANTaR’) National Director David Cooper says the figures are an ‘indictment of the Government’s ... quick fix, ill thought out solutions’ to complex issues. Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone suggested that some members of the community hadn’t fully complied with the agreement.
A Queensland MP has been appointed to the dual portfolios of Minister for Families and Community Services and Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Mal Brough will take over the Indigenous Affairs responsibility from Amanda Vanstone. Mr Brough said that he supported the mainstreaming of Indigenous affairs.
The NT Government plans to introduce legislation to regulate bioprospecting and encourage practices which protect the knowledge of Indigenous people. The development of products from plants and animals will be conducted after partnerships are negotiated between biotechnology companies, the Government and traditional owners.
Many people have gathered in front of Old Parliament House to recognise Aboriginal sovereignty. After the lighting of a ceremonial fire, members of the Tent Embassy invited all living in Australia to visit the Embassy and place a leaf in the fire. Meanwhile, Director of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, Michael Mansell, says that reconciliation can never occur so long as ‘the coming of white people is the basis for celebrating Australia Day.’ Stolen Wages was a major theme at the Brisbane rally on ‘Invasion Day’. Campaigner Tiga Bayles made the comparison between Government efforts and schemes to ensure Ansett workers didn’t lose their entitlements when the airline closed down and its treatment of Indigenous Australians who were cheated the money they worked for.