: DUAO - Vol 40(4)

DUAO - 2015 - Vol 40(4)

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Developments around the country

DownUnderAllOver is a round-up of legal news from both State and federal jurisdictions, and contains topical articles and short pieces from Alternative Law Journal committees around the country.

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From commitment to culture: Victoria’s Charter Review report released

Kate Browne
Victoria

Independent Reviewer Michael Brett Young’s final Report on the 8-year review of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (‘Charter’) was tabled in the Victorian Parliament on 17 September 2015 and contains 52 recommendations.

The Report’s focus is on recommendations that would improve the Charter to make it more accessible, effective and practical in protecting and promoting the human rights of Victorians. It acknowledges that the Charter has achieved a great deal in building a human rights culture in Victoria and improving the lives of Victorians. However, it also notes that the operation of the Charter can be unclear and overly technical and could be improved to make it more accessible.

(2015) 40(4) AltLJ 287

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South West Native Title deal

Steven Castan
Western Australia

On 13 October 2015, the Noongar Recognition Bill was introduced into parliament. This Bill signed by the state government and the Noongar people, although not creating any new rights for the Noongar people, forms part of the $1.3 billion South West Native Title Settlement, signed by the state government in June 2015.

The Bill was the result of six years of negotiation between the state government and the Noongar People and Premier Colin Barnett was quoted as saying that, ‘It recognises Noongar customs and culture, their unique contribution to the heritage, cultural identity and economy of the state, and represents a commitment to a shared partnership to build a stronger Western Australian community’.

The South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council represented the six claimant groups in the deal. Chair, Jeanice Krakouer considers the deal and the legislation as an emotional milestone for her community. The deal includes six Indigenous land use agreements covering 200 000 kilometres of land stretching from Jurien Bay to Ravensthorpe and including the Perth metropolitan area.

(2015) 40(4) AltLJ 288

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Heritage deregistration

Steven Castan
Western Australia

Controversy has arisen over the state government’s decision to deregister 37 Aboriginal sacred sites by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (‘DAA’) Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (‘ACMC’). The Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance (‘AHAA’) in September has called upon the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Peter Collier to reinstate the sites that were deregistered following applications by developers top ‘disturb’ them under s18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act. In a landmark case, earlier in the year a sacred site in Port Hedland that was deregistered by the ACMC was declared invalid after Justice Chaney declared that the definition of ‘Sacred Site’ was too narrow and referred the site back to the ACMC for reassessment.

The AHAA has called for action by all Aboriginal custodians of the deregistered sites to demand the immediate reinstatement of all the sites due to the fact that Minister Collier has utilised the same narrow definition of Sacred Site to deregister the sites. AHAA spokesman and Yamatji man Clayton Lewis has stated that since the Justice Chaney decision there has been no information from the DAA about the status of any of the deregistered sites and that they are seeking legal advice as to whether the custodians could sue the state government if any of the sites have been damaged in the meantime.

The AHAA awaits a response from the Minister Peter Collier.

(2015) 40(4) AltLJ 288

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China

Gill Boehringer
Human Rights

The extent of the Chinese crackdown has been enormous if we look at the percentage of the small community of human rights lawyers targeted. Almost all, of about 300, have been detained according to the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group. One reason the Group gives for the crackdown is that there had been a rapidly growing network of such lawyers that has unsettled the Chinese government.

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada has released a comprehensive report on the parlous situation for the Chinese lawyers, stating that they have been subjected ‘to wrongful arrests and prosecutions, arbitrary and incommunicado detentions and enforced disappearances without judicial oversight’. There have also been allegations of torture which must be taken seriously in light of the LRWC report which lists a number of cases from the recent past where beatings in custody were not unusual, and in a number of cases caused paralysis and confinement to a wheelchair.

(2015) 40(4) AltLJ 289

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Turkey

Gill Boehringer
Human Rights

Another worrying development occurred in Turkey’s eastern city of Diyarbakir, the ‘capital’ of Kurdish Turkey. There, apparently for political reasons associated with the then current election campaign by Prime Minister Erdogan who was advocating a hard line on the Kurds, Attorney Tahir Elҫi, President of the Diyarbakir Bar Association and a respected human rights defender was arrested and jailed. The charge: ‘making propaganda and or promoting a terrorist organization’. He had made a speech denying the Kurdish Workers’ Party (‘PKK’) was a terrorist organization, and called for peaceful resolution of the armed conflict between it and the Turkish state. In addition to denying the attorney free speech, identifying human rights lawyers with their client’s cause is a violation of the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990). Nevertheless it is a rampant practice worldwide.

Elsewhere, non-physical attacks of a financial kind continue, with legal aid a target for many governments still implementing neoliberal austerity policies. The good news is the inspiring resistance of the French lawyers who carried out a successful strike (90 per cent of the lawyers struck) for three weeks in October to force the government to back down on a threatened package of reforms to the judicial system, including planned cuts to legal aid. One element that surprised many around the world was the willingness of the French riot police to ‘get stuck into’ the gowned advocates.

(2015) 40(4) AltLJ 289

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