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Biaginni, Dianne; Pitcher, Celia; Schimell, Julian --- "Recent Happenings" [2000] IndigLawB 35; (2000) 4(29) Indigenous Law Bulletin 24

Recent Happenings

Compiled by Dianne Biaggini, Julian Schimell, Celia Pitcher.

1 March

Federal Resources Minister Senator Nick Minchin declared that the British and Australian funded cleanup of the nuclear contaminated Maralinga nuclear test site was complete. The Australian Conservation Foundation is not so sure.

3 March

The Federal Government announced that the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation will be replaced on 31 December 2000 with a new body, Reconciliation Australia, which will be funded by corporate philanthropists who will received tax concessions for donations made to the orgnaisation.

3 March

The Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia handed down its decision in Cth v Ward. The Court found that the test for extinguishing native title applied by the trial judge was not consistent with the High Court’s. While the Miriuwung and Gajerrong peoples’ native title was confirmed, the amount of land awarded to them in the original decision was halved. The WA Aboriginal Legal Service is applying for special leave to appeal to the High Court. The decision is available at <> .

7 March

The NSW Department of Corrective Services commenced an investigation into the hanging deaths of two prisoners. One, an Aboriginal youth, died at the Cessnock Correctional Centre on 3 March, the other, a non-Aboriginal man, died at Goulburn Correctional Centre on 4 March.

8 March

Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Senator John Herron tabled a submission to the Cabinet which, if adopted, would implement the recommendations of the Reeves Report. This is in spite of a bipartisan House of Representatives committee’s rejection of that report last year.

13 March

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer released to the public a reference paper jointly prepared by the UN Commission for Human Rights and UNICEF. The paper advises the Government of its obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination but does not state whether the WA and NT Mandatory sentencing laws breach these obligations. On 17 March, the Sydney Morning Herald published documents revealing that several adverse findings, which may have formed the basis for a UNHRC request to override the States’ laws, were excluded from the final report because of diplomatic pressure from Australia.

13 March

The majority report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee recommended Federal Government intervention to overturn the NT and WA mandatory sentencing laws as they apply to children. The Federal Cabinet rejected the recommendation to expedite House of Representatives debate of the Human Rights (Mandatory Sentencing of Juvenile Offenders) Bill 1999. The two Liberal members of the committee, Senators Helen Coonan and Marise Payne, submitted a minority report stating that the Bill should only apply to the NT laws.

13 March

Lawyers acting for the Northern Territory Aboriginal Justice Advocacy Committee commenced a Supreme Court action against the NT Government, which continues to transfer Aboriginal prisoners from Darwin to Alice Springs in direct contravention of recommendation 168 of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, after non-legal means of communicating this breach to Corrective services went unheeded.

14 March

In the House of Representatives, Liberal MP Dana Vale moved a private members bill to overturn the NT’s mandatory sentencing laws.

16 March

In a party-room meeting, Prime Minister John Howard instructed Coalition MPs to vote against Liberal MP Dana Vale’s private member’s bill. Ms Vale subsequently withdrew her bill.

21 March

Mining company Kingstream admitted to paying at least $55,000 to support the registration of the Yaburara peoples’ native title claim. The claim would affect land which both Kingstream and a rival company, Mineralogy, have interests in.

22 March

Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock presented the Australian Government’s report to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (‘CERD’).

23 March

The West Australian Government introduced the Police Service’s Protective Custody Bill 2000. If passed, the law would give police the power to detain children for up to eight hours without charging them if it was suspected that they were intoxicated. The law also extends police powers to detain intoxicated adults without laying charges.

25 March

After hearing the Australian government’s 10, 11 and 12 periodic reports on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) re-stated its 1999 recommendation that the operation of the 1998 amendments to the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) be suspended. The Committee also recommended that the WA and NT mandatory sentencing laws discriminated against Aboriginal people and that the Federal Government should therefore override the laws.

26 March

The Federal Government lodged a formal complaint against the CERD to the UN.

30 March

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer announced a review of Australia’s participation in the treaty system, due to be tabled in Cabinet in early June.

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