Tuesday, February 17, 2009

NWT High Court Denies Aboriginal Land Claims and Upholds NT Intervention Program

Violent scenes at High Court after land rights decision

Originally published in WAtoday.com.au (02-02-09)

Protesters stormed inside the High Court and clashed with police after the court dismissed a challenge against the federal intervention into Northern Territory Aboriginal communities.

Dozens of anti-intervention protesters, both indigenous and non-indigenous, pushed through the court's front doors minutes after it rejected the case brought by traditional owners from the Arnhem Land community of Maningrida.

Carrying banners and clapping, the protesters chanted, "Always was, always will be Aboriginal land," as they moved into the court's main foyer.

Security guards tried to prevent the protesters from entering the building but were quickly overwhelmed.

Police appeared on the scene soon after, triggering scuffles as they tried to force the protesters back outside.

After a tense half-hour stand-off, the protesters took their demonstration to the streets of Canberra.

Under the NT intervention program, launched by the Howard government in a bid to tackle child sexual abuse, the commonwealth took control of township leases, abolished the permit system, introduced welfare restrictions, boosted police numbers and imposed alcohol and pornography bans.

Maningrida traditional owners Reggie Wurridjal and Joy Garlbin took on the commonwealth over its compulsory five-year takeover of their land.

The land, measuring 10.456 square kilometres, includes a township, four sacred sites, an outstation, a sand quarry, a billabong and a ceremonial site.
The elders, along with the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, argued the commonwealth failed to acquire the land on "just terms" as required by the constitution.

But the court, by a six to one majority, rejected their argument, saying the laws underpinning the intervention properly provided for compensation for Aboriginal organisations and people.

Retiring Justice Michael Kirby, in his final judgment in the court, dissented, arguing the case should be sent to trial.

"The law of Australia owes the Aboriginal claimants nothing less," he said.

A majority of justices also overruled a 1969 High Court decision which held that the just terms requirement in section 51 of the constitution did not apply to laws made by the commonwealth for the governing of the NT and ACT.

Copyright © 2009. Fairfax Digital

Native Rights News is making this material from WAtoday.com.au available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.

Posted By Perry Chesnut, Editor to Native Rights News at 2/03/2009 06:52:00 AM

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