Indigenous Law Bulletin
compiled by Jacqui Houston
The Productivity Commission’s third Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report has been released today, showing a dramatic increase in rates of imprisonment for both Indigenous men and women. The report also looked at the success or otherwise of government and community programs and found that the most successful were those that used community involvement as an integral part of the program design process.
The Western Australian Attorney-General, Jim McGinty, has today opened a new court in Rockingham. The Family Violence Court is accessed by offenders pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court and agreeing to participate in the Family Violence Court program of rehabilitation for up to six months.
Queensland Minister for Child Safety, Desley Boyle, has ordered an investigation into claims that a 12-year-old girl was appointed a therapist by the Government who was related to one of her alleged abusers.
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (‘HREOC’) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, has tabled in Parliament today the 2006 Social Justice Report which found that the Federal Government has failed to engage Indigenous peoples in policy and consultation. Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough has labelled the report as disappointing, ‘out-of-date’ and ‘unhelpful’.
Three judges in the Federal Court have today allowed the appeal by the Mutitjulu community challenging the Federal Government’s appointment of an administrator.
Pat Anderson, Co-Chair of the Northern Territory (‘NT’) Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, has today released the Inquiry’s findings in a report titled Little Children are Sacred. The Report has made 97 recommendations, including wide-ranging changes to the education system.
The Australian newspaper has reported on a leaked copy of a blueprint prepared by Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute titled ‘From Hand Out to Hand Up’. The report details obligations to be linked directly to welfare entitlements. Welfare payments would be linked to the upkeep of public housing and to addressing issues of family violence. The plan recommends that family payments should cease where a child has three unexplained school absences within a school year.
Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley is to return to operational duties after a jury today cleared him of manslaughter and assault charges in relation to the death of Mulrunji on Palm Island in November 2004. Palm Island Mayor Delena Oui-Foster said that while the decision is unexpected, the locals will accept the court’s decision. Mulrunji’s family will now consider whether to sue Hurley for damages.
The Prime Minister has today declared a national emergency and announced sweeping changes in Indigenous communities across the NT. The measures include a six-month ban on the sale, possession, transportation and consumption of alcohol on Aboriginal land. Parents of children in ‘affected areas’ will have 50 per cent of their welfare payments quarantined for the purchase of food and other essential items; a measure which will ‘follow the parent wherever that parent may go.’ Control of Aboriginal townships will be taken by the Federal Government via five-year leases in a bid to improve property and public housing. Under the plans, the permit system will be scrapped. The possession of x-rated pornography will be banned and all publicly-funded computers will be examined for evidence of pornography. The Prime Minister has said that he will call Parliament back during its winter break if he deems it necessary to approve legislative changes.
Other measures proposed by the Federal Government for implementation into NT Aboriginal communities include compulsory health checks for Aboriginal children for the assessment of child abuse; increasing policing levels; introducing market-based rents and ‘normal’ tenancy arrangements; and ‘appointing managers of all government business in prescribed communities.’ Next week’s meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee on the Australian Crime Commission (‘ACC’) will ‘refer the issue to the ACC to allow it to identify and locate perpetrators of sexual abuse of Indigenous children in other areas of Australia.’
The HREOC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, has issued a statement on the Government’s ‘national emergency’ measures in the NT. While he welcomes action on violence, child abuse and alcohol abuse, he is concerned that the measures do not put in place preventive measures which constitute a long-term approach; to prevent offences from re-occurring. The Commissioner asked where the rehabilitation services were to help those with alcohol and other substance abuse problems to safely come off their addiction.
A magistrate in Western Australia has granted bail to two Aboriginal men facing child sex offences despite the communities where the men live advocating against such a decision. The magistrate decided that the request from the Kalumburu Aboriginal Corporation was not based on evidence and also rejected the prosecution’s opposition to bail on the basis of threatened payback by the victim’s families.
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough has today announced the Taskforce he has appointed to advise ‘on issues surrounding the emergency response strategy to protect children in the Northern Territory’. The Taskforce will be led by National Indigenous Council Chair, Dr Sue Gordon OAM.
An inquiry will be conducted after another Indigenous death in custody. The 44-year-old man died after being taken to the Mareeba watch-house in far north Queensland. A senior police officer will be appointed to the role of family liaison and will communicate with the deceased man’s family and the wider Indigenous community.
Greens Senator Bob Brown says he will vote against any changes should the Federal Government attempt to pass legislation to permit its plan for NT Aboriginal communities. Senator Brown called the plan ‘racist’. Head of the Government’s taskforce, Western Australian Magistrate Sue Gordon, told the ABC that people can either support the change or allow child abuse to continue.
Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has today said that health checks on children in NT Aboriginal communities will not be compulsory.