Indigenous Law Bulletin
Compiled by Lauren Schulman, Dianne Biaginni, Julian Schimmel
Federal Attorney-General, Darryl Williams, announced the appointment for three years of six new members to the Native Title Tribunal. The three new full-time members are: John Sosso, Graham Fletcher and Bardy MacFarlane. The three new part-time members are: Ruth Wade, Gaye Sculthorpe and Jennifer Stuckey-Clarke.
The North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service has received permission from a number of people subject to mandatory sentencing to take their cases to the United Nations as a challenge to the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing laws.
Bourke farmer Andrew Lewis was fined $10,000 last week in the NSW Mines Court for illegally operating a gypsum mine on his Western Lands Lease property, which is the subject of three native title claims. After obtaining development approval, Lewis failed to obtain the native title claimants' permission, which is necessary to the grant of a mining lease.
Police, including a dog squad, raided an assembly at the Acacia Ridge Aboriginal and Islander Community School in Queensland. They attempted to remove two students they suspected had stolen a car from the school but were prevented from doing so by Principle Philomena Downey.
At a women's-only community meeting at Woorabinda in Central Queensland, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Women's Affairs Minister Judy Spence was petitioned to implement the recommendations of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Taskforce on Domestic Violence, which call for half of government-appointed and Aboriginal Community Council board positions to be reserved for women to ensure equal participation in decision-making.
A 15 year-old Aboriginal boy from Groote Eylandt died in Royal Darwin Hospital after hanging himself at Don Dale Juvenile Centre in Darwin. The boy was sentenced under the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing laws to serve 28 days for his second property offence involving the theft of textas, liquid paper and pens worth $50. It is not clear why he was not offered diversionary conferencing, a non-custodial alternative available to 15 and 16 year-olds under the laws.
Premier of New South Wales, Mr Bob Carr, announced that the Sydney Harbour Bridge will be closed for seven hours on 28 May to allow a march for reconciliation to celebrate the launch of the final draft of the Federal Government's document of reconciliation.
Eight women, inmates at the Mulawa Women's Prison in NSW, became the first prisoners in Australia to give evidence directly to a parliamentary committee during a NSW Parliamentary inquiry into the 29% increase in female prisoners over the last five years.
Federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams announced that the New South Wales Government's alternative right to negotiate legislation was compliant with s 26A of the Native Title Act 1993.
A 16-year-old Aboriginal boy was kept in custody for almost 24 hours after WA police caught him trying to steal 40c for a train fare home. Given that the Young Offender's Act 1994 (WA) contains provisions designed to divert children from the criminal justice system, Perth Children's Court magistrate Mr Stephen Voss criticised police and stated that the boy 'should never have been arrested'.
Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator John Herron, handed the freehold title to the 5334km2 Elsey Station, in the Northern Territory, to its 400 traditional owners. The station had been owned by non-Indigenous graziers for 100 years and was made famous in the novel 'We of the Never Never'.
The Prime Minister categorically stated that the Commonwealth would not use its external affairs powers to overturn the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing laws, as it did to overturn the NT's euthanasia laws in 1997.
President Ms Mary Robinson announced that the UN Commission on Human Rights had, at the request of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, commenced an inquiry into the question of whether Western Australia and Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing laws were in breach of Australia's international human rights obligation.
Prime Minister John Howard publicly speculated about the possibility of overturning the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing laws (but not Western Australia's) by using the territories power, rather than by invoking international law via the external affairs power as proposed by the Human Rights (Mandatory Sentencing of Juvenile Offenders) Bill 1999.
Chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Geoff Clark, promised to address concerns that ATSIC was not representative by providing opportunities for structural change within the Commission, even to the extent of dismantling it entirely.
Federal Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Senator John Herron, threatened to cut ATSIC's housing budget if it refused to accept his 1999 housing proposal. That proposal places Senator Herron, Family and Community Services Minister Senator Jocelyn Newman, Health Minister Dr Michael Wooldridge and ATSIC Chairman Geoff Clark at the helm of a new housing agency in which ATSIC regional councillors would perform a merely advisory role.