Indigenous Law Bulletin
compiled by Jacqui Houston
Badu Council in the Torres Strait says it has legal advice which suggests that the community may seek a judicial review of the Queensland Government’s decision to transfer the community’s Deed of Grant in Trust to a new Torres Strait Island Regional Council.
Coroner Greg Cavanah has today handed down his findings on the death of an 18-year-old man in Wadeye, Northern Territory (‘NT’), in 2002. The Coroner found that Senior Constable Robert Whittington was ‘in a blind panic’ when he shot the young man during a police-approved fight. While the finding accepts that the police officer’s shot killed the man, it rejects any suggestion that the shooting was intentional and states that the circumstances displayed a ‘serious error of judgment’ on behalf of the officer. The family of the deceased man says they are pleased to have some resolution to the matter but has also called on the Territory’s new Attorney-General to consider making legislative changes to allow charges to be laid against Whittington.
The High Court will start hearing the appeal today against the Blue Mud Bay case decided by the Federal Court in March which found that Traditional Owners in the area have exclusive rights over waters between the high and low tide marks. The NT Government, which is being assisted in the appeal by the Federal Government, is confident that the decision will be overturned. The Northern Land Council says that, in the event the decision is overturned, they hope that governments will work with the council to co-manage fisheries.
The head of the Corruption and Crime Commission in Western Australia (‘WA’) is accused of withholding evidence in a murder trial 18 years ago. Len Roberts-Smith was Crown Prosecutor in the matter in which 29-year-old Jeanie Angel, a Goodabinya woman, was convicted of the murder of her stepmother on the basis of two uncorroborated ‘confessions’, both made under duress and without the presence of legal representation. Ms Angel is demanding compensation from the WA Government.
Central Land Council (‘CLC’) says that Central Petroleum, a mining company, breached law when it entered the Santa Teresa community to sign a deal with Traditional Owners for the lease of a section of the Colson Track. Central Petroleum says that its legal advice was that entry onto the land was permitted, however CLC says that changes to the permit system do not come into effect until 18 February 2008. Central Petroleum says that it entered the community after waiting 15 months for CLC to show the lease proposal to Traditional Owners.
The Queensland Attorney-General has confirmed that he will appeal a District Court judge’s decision not to gaol six teenagers who raped a 10-year-old girl in Aurukun in 2005. Judge Sarah Bradley, in making sentencing remarks, said that the victim had ‘probably agreed’ to sex with the offenders. Judge Bradley did not record a conviction against the perpetrators and placed them all on 12-month probation orders. Three adult offenders each received six months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.
New Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has placed a moratorium on the abolition of the Community Development Employment Projects (‘CDEP’) scheme. Ms Macklin says that CDEP will be changed in order to create training and real job opportunities. Welfare quarantining will, however, continue.
Westralia Airports Corporation has today been fined $10,000 for damaging significant Aboriginal heritage during development of a site. The site had first been registered in 1983 for its significant archaeological heritage. Magistrate Greg Benn disagreed with the Corporation’s contention that its breach of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) was only a technical one because of damage which had occurred to the site twice previously. The damage done by the Corporation is irreparable.
The Nimbin Environment Centre in New South Wales has warned that asbestos tailings from the Baryulgil mine are being drawn up and spread by heavy vehicles, posing a major threat to health. The Centre reports that people living near the old mine are ‘blanketed’ by the dust, stirred up by logging trucks driving through the national park.
NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson says that his government has reached an agreement with the Commonwealth whereby government officials and journalists will be granted access to Aboriginal land without permits. The agreement is not expected to be put into action until the Federal Government undertakes a review of the impact of the intervention 12 months on from its implementation.
Michael Mansell, a key negotiator in the development of the Tasmanian Government’s stolen generation compensation scheme, says that any national apology needs to be backed by a plan for compensation. Mr Mansell says an apology is hollow without compensation and has suggested the creation of a $1 billion fund, contributed to by states, territories and the Commonwealth.
Today’s meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (‘COAG’) has reached consensus over the establishment of seven working groups to deal with various issues. One of these groups will focus upon Indigenous issues. Ministers have been instructed by the Prime Minister to assist in the driving of reform. One federal minister will chair each working group which will also have a state/territory minister as deputy chair.
A group of Indigenous leaders has stated that it will take its case to the United Nations if the Federal and Queensland Governments push ahead with plans to introduce ‘racist’ welfare reforms. The welfare trials, powered by a new Family Responsibilities Commission, ‘will be subject to a legal challenge in the Queensland and Australian courts and, if the Government defies our rights by suspending the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), we will take it to the United Nations.’ The group, which includes Les Malezer, Terry O’Shane, Bob Weatherall, Jacqui Katona and Victor Hart, says that any welfare quarantining laws should apply to all Australians, without racial discrimination.