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«Upholding the Australian Constitution Volume Seventeen Proceedings of the Seventeenth Conference of The Samuel Griffith Society Greenmount Beach Resort, ...»

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No doubt r e s t r i c t i o n s could be imposed, by s t a t u t o r y or c o n t r a c t u a l conditions requiring the approval of some overarching authority before property is sold, m o r t g a g e d or sub-leased. B u t who would t h a t a u t h o r i t y be? The Minister for Aboriginal affairs, or the Aboriginal corporation in which the block was previously vested? Might not the corporation be opposed to a “privatised” scheme, and, if so, would it be unduly obstructive?

Would it be an inflexible condition that sales or mortgages be confined to other Aborigines? That would tend to make borrowing difficult, so perhaps the r e s t r a i n t on alienation would apply to sales only, leaving m o r t g a g e s to t h e discretion of the individual? But then there would be a risk, if loan repayments fell into arrears, of forfeiture to the mortgagor. In that event, would the lender be prevented from re-selling i t to anyone but an Aborigine? If so, a n o t h e r deterrent to lenders would arise. And in t h e m a t t e r o f sales, would Aboriginal proprietors faced with a willing buyer and an attractive offer always be faithful to an “Aborigines only” regime? The definition of “Aborigine” is a l r e a d y stretched, and in such cases might it not be further extended?

I t is quite likely t h a t r e s t r a i n t s on alienation would be c r i t i c i s e d a s “paternalistic” and “discriminatory” by some of the very people who now oppose the Mundine plan. T h a t could present a p o l i t i c a l difficulty, because “ a n t i d i s c r i m i n a t i o n ” laws have gained a quasi - c o n s t i t u t i o n a l s t a t u s, so t h a t “ d i s c r i m i n a t i o n ” is no longer an ordinary, neutral word, but a self-proving indictment of wrongdoing. But as a matter of law, restrictions would probably p a s s m u s t e r a s “ g o o d d i s c r i m i n a t i o n ” 63 under s. 8 of the Racial Discrimination

Act and the Convention to which the Act refers:

“Special measures … for the sole purpose of securing adequate advancement of certain racial or ethnic groups or individuals requiring such protection a s may be necessary in order to ensure such groups or individuals equal enjoyment or exercise of h u m a n r i g h t s and f u n d a m e n t a l freedoms … provided, however, that such measures … shall not be continued a f t e r t h e objectives for which they were taken have been achieved”.

If leaseholds, who will be lessor?

The obvious, but perhaps not the best answer, is: “The Aboriginal body holding the communal t i t l e to the land from which the lease was excised”. T h i s predicates a friendly disposition in such bodies to the creation of, and dealings i n, s e p a r a t e t i t l e s. Could t h a t b e relied on in the present s t a t e o f Aboriginal politics, and if so, would the practices of the many councils and corporations be reasonably efficient, predictable and uniform?

If Aboriginal bodies are not to be the landlords, the Crown will have to fill the vacancy. There are two ways of achieving t h a t result. Compulsory a c q u i s i t i o n of c o m m u n a l l a n d i s one of them. In i t ial ly on ly smal l por t i ons of co mmu nal hol di ngs ne ed be in vol ved, and in th e re mote r a r eas th eir va lue woul d no t be hi gh. (Should there be m a x i m u m a r e a s f o r “ p r i v a t i s e d ” t i t l e s in u r b a n and rural areas respectively?) Of course compensation would be payable, despite the difficulty of applying conventional “mar ket va lue ” co ncepts to nat iv e t i tl e of any ki nd. 64 Ren t s pai d by l ess ees could be us ed fo r th a t pur pos e.

A second possibility is to borrow a technique from the law of mining leases.

All such leases are granted by the Crown, whether the subject land is Crown land or land privately owned. By the same token i t is the Crown, not the p r i v a t e owner, which has the discretion to allow or disallow dealings with a lease. Once a g a i n, rents could be directed to the Aboriginal body concerned in whole or partial compensation for the overriding grant.

If the communal t i t l e s underpinning leases are retained by Aboriginal corporations, better supervision of their financial affairs is highly desirable. As Mundine says, the financial records of many “indigenous” bodies and t h e i r controllers are spotty, to say the least. Al tho ugh th e medi a a r e ge ner all y in dul gen t to wards th em, re por t s of fi nan cia l abu ses a r e as co mmo n as re por t s of ef fe cti ve re medi a l ac tio n ar e ra re.

In Decembe r, 20 01 The Sy dney Morn ing Her ald, us uall y de fer ent ial in th ese m a t t ers, ca rri ed an a r tic le he aded “A bori gi nal Gr avy Tr ain Of f th e R a i ls ”, cl a i mi ng th a t th e NSW Abo ri gin a l Lan d Cou nci l had fr i t ter ed away more th an $5 20 mil li on in a de cade of mis manage ment and poo r in ves tmen ts. Ton y Koc h of th e Bri sb ane Cou rie r Mail, a pe ren nial apo log is t fo r Abo ri gin a l mone y m a n a gers, a d m i t s th a t “A ustr al i a is awas h wit h hun dre ds of mil li ons of dol l a r s of t a xpaye r fu nds di s t r ibu ted by ATS IC fo r whi ch th ere is l i t t le or no ac coun tabi li ty ”.65 The Aboriginal academic M a r c i a Langton, usually quick to c a s t i g a t e any c r i t i c of “indigenous” affairs, told ATSIC in 2002 that Abo ri gin a l co mmu nit ies wer e be ing “c le aned out ” by corru p t i on and th a t “a l o t of Abori gin a l mone y is go ing AWOL ”.66 An ATS IC Commi ssi oner fo r So u t h Aus t r a li a, Bri an But le r, be li eves th a t in so me co mmu nit ies most of th e “l ea ders ” a r e br ibe d, and ca ll s fo r “z ero to le ranc e” of gr a f t, to sa ve co mmu nit ies ( t axpay er s?) fr om be ing “r obb ed” of l arge amou nts of mone y. 67 In 20 03 a go ver nment in ves t i gato r fo und th a t th e NSW Lan d Cou nci l had pai d an in si der name d Coe th ousa nds of dol l a r s fo r l egal adv ic e, de spi te th e fa c t th a t, se ver al years ea rli er, he was st ruc k of f th e bar ri ste rs’ ro ll af ter co mp lai nts th a t he dr ew th ousa nds of dol l a r s fr om th e Abo ri gin a l Le gal Se rvi ce whi le he and hi s fa mi ly hol id aye d abr oad. So on af ter wards th e Se rv ic e co ll apse d wit h de bts of $2 mil li on. A fe w wee ks ago Coe ’s di smis sal fr om ano the r si x- fig ure si necure was re commen ded by l egal adv is ers of th e land co unci l co ncerne d.

In Ju ly, 20 02 two Que ens lan d ATS IC co m m i ss ion ers, Tho mpson and O’Shan e, ca ll ed fo r an in depe nde n t in qui ry in to Dep uty Cha irman Ray Rob ins on’s pur chas e of a home, and hi s al le ged us e of hou sin g co mp any fu nds fo r pe rso nal ex pens es. 68 No more has be en he a r d of th a t, but in M a r c h, 20 04 an aud i t of a Too woomba co rpor a t i on he aded by Rob ins on dis cl ose d th a t he had wri t t en cash cheques f o r more than $1 million in one financial year. Other “leaders” poured ATSIC money

–  –  –

Freehold titles?

In remote or u n a t t r a c t i v e a r e a s there would probably be l i t t l e demand f o r freehold. In vi ew of i t s ca pit a l co st, many pe opl e woul d pr obab ly fi nd l ease s a t mode s t re nts a more a t trac t i ve pr opos i t i on. But in places where land values are higher, freeholds as well as leases could be made available. Some of t h e m o s t expensive blocks might be in the tribal domain of the Sydney Metropolitan Land Council, whose holdings in the W a r r i n g a h d i s t r i c t are s a i d to have a developmental value of more t h a n $1 billion, thanks to the Land Acquisition Fund.

I t is t r u e t h a t r e s t r i c t i o n s on dealings w i t h freehold would be more d i f f i c u l t to reconcile w i t h normal land law principles t h a n r e s t r i c t i o n s on leaseholds. But that is not a self-evident reason for allowing Aborigines who are prepared to pay the higher initial price a choice of freehold title. A little lateral thinking suggests a way of creating freeholds without compulsory acquisition of existing Aboriginal land, or some other politically sensitive action by government. Adaptation of an old piece of co-ownership legislation could achieve a result even more congenial to self-determination than a leasehold scheme. The Partition Acts – as they were originally called 69 – enable a co-owner, who cannot persuade fellow owners to let him have a separate title, to seek a court order for severance or sale of the property as a whole. For present purposes the sale option should be excluded. The usual order here would be for seve ran ce of a sp eci fi ed par t of th e commu nal l and, and re gis t r atio n of it in th e app li cant ’s name.

Al ter nat ive ly, th e l ease s co uld in cl ude an opt io n to pur chas e af ter a ce r t a i n pe rio d of ti me, or af ter impr ovement s to a ce r t a in va lue wer e made. Pr ovi sio ns of th a t ki nd hav e ex ist ed in Cr own Lan ds Ac t s and pas tor a l l ease s fo r many years.

–  –  –

pr ospe cts of fi nan cia l gai n, wil l l ive whi le th e adh ere nts or pr ospe cts su rvi ve.

Never thel es s, th e novelty of ju dge- made t i tl es se ems to be wea rin g of f, even in ci rc les whi ch woul d no t to le rate th e sl ig hte s t cr i t ici s m of th em a fe w years ago.

Does it follow, then, that the Mason Court’s adventure was a f a i l u r e, a s some a d m i r e r s now believe? If i t s real purpose was to create a useful form of ownership for many Aborigines, the answer is probably “Yes”. B u t if i t s r e a l aims were to provide a fashionable display of j u d i c i a l p o w e r, p u b l i c i t y f o r a n already outmoded version of l a n d r i g h t s, a n d to f o r c e p o l i t i c i a n s t o legislate, the answer is “No”. A few judges, invincibly persuaded t h a t “ i n so me ci rc umstan ces go ver nment s pr efe r to l eave su ch th ing s to [ us] ”, decided to force the legislative hand, “and they did”.

It re mains to be se en whe ther th e ju dic ial re ver si on to Rou sse a u is ec li pse d by Mund ine ’s vision of individual owners with secure personal holdings. Who knows, we may live to see native title lawyers beating their swords into ploughshares, and trudging back to the tranquil fields of conveyancing.


1. Milirrpum v. Nabalco Pty Ltd (1971) 17 FLR 141.

2. [1986] HCA 8.

3. The Australian, 1 May, 2002.

4. Abo ri gin al Her i t age Ac t 19 72 (WA) ; Abo ri gin al Lan d s Ac t 19 95 (T as);

Abo ri gin al Lan d Ri g h t s Ac t s 19 83 and 19 98 (NS W); Abo ri gin al Lan d s Ac t s 19 71 and 19 91 (V ic) ; Abo ri gin al Lan d Ac t 19 91 (Ql d) ; Abo ri gin al Lan d s Tr u s t Act 19 66 and Maralinga etc Land Rights Act 1984 (SA).

5. I Hunter, N a t i v e T i t l e – A c t s of S t a t e and t h e Rule of L a w, in Goot a n d Rowse (eds), M a k e a B e t t e r Offer – The P o l i t i c s of M a b o, Pluto Press, Sydney, 2000, 107.

6. The Australian, 2 July, 1993: Chief Justice Defends Ruling as Lawful.

7. D’Orta-Ekenaike v. Victoria Legal Aid [2005] HCA 12.

8. Yanner v. Eaton (1999) 166 ALR 258 at [72] per Gummow J.

9. De Rose v. South Australia (2003) 133 FCR 325.

10. Fejo v. Northern Territory (1998) 195 CLR 96, at 25.

11. Courier Mail, 1 June, 2002.

12. Original epithet bowdlerised in deference to polite company.

13. Courier Mail, 5 November, 2004.

14. The Australian, 5 November, 2004.

15. Quoted in T Rowse, The Pr inc ipl es of Abo ri gin al Pr a g m a t i s m, in Goot and Rows e (e ds), op. ci t., 18 9.

16. Courier Mail, 22 April, 2003.

17. Smith v. Tenneco Energy Queensland Pty Ltd & Others, Drummond J, Federal Court, 2 May, 1996.

18. Mason v. Tritton (1994) 34 NSWLR 572.

19. The Wik Case (1996) 187 CLR 1.

20. Nulyarimma v. Thompson (1999) FCR 153.

21. Fejo v. Northern Territory, loc. cit..

22. The Australian, 20 November, 2000, Title Victory Squandered.

23. Kartinyeri v. Commonwealth (1998) 72 ALJR 722.

24. Hayes v. Northern Territory (1999) 97 FCR 32.

25. The Weekend Australian, 16-17 December, 2000, T h e T r a d i t i o n a l O w n e r N e x t Door.

26. Rubibi Community v. Western Australia [2001] FCA 607.

27. Ngalaken People v. Northern Territory [2001] FCA 654.

28. The Australian, 7 November, 2000.

29. Ibid., 7 June, 2001, Judicial Revolution Written in the Sand.

30. R Flanagan, The L o s t T r i b e s, in The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Oct ober, 20 02.

R H B a r t l e t t, Native Title in Australia, 2nd edition, Butterworths, 2004, 82.


32. Wilson v. Anderson (2002) 190 ALR 313.

33. Lawson v. M i n i s t e r a s s i s t i n g t h e M i n i s t e r f o r N a t u r a l Resources (Lands) [2004] FC AFC 308.

34. Lardil Peoples v. State of Queensland [2004] FCA 298.

35. Gumana v. Northern Territory [2005] FCA 50.

36. The Weekend Australian, 1-2 June, 2002.

37. R H B a r t l e t t, op. cit., 536-538.

38. S Doenau, Native Title and Negotiated Agreements, Law Foundation of NSW, 1999.

39. Native Title in Australia, op. cit., Chapter 6.

40. The Weekend Australian, 1-2 June, 2002.

41. The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 March, 2002.

42. Ibid., 1-2 June, 2002.

43. The Australian, 7 June, 2002 (Paul Toohey).

44. Courier Mail, 14 August, 2002.

45. The Weekend Australian, 1-2 June, 2002, Mabo Ten Years On.

46. Ibid..

47. Ibid., 15-16 January, 2005.

48. The Australian, 27 June, 2002.

49. Ibid., 16 December, 2004.

50. J R Forbes, P r o v i n g N a t i v e T i t l e, in U p h o l d i n g t h e A u s t r a l i a n C o n s t i t u t i o n, Proceedings of The Samuel Griffith Society, Volume 4 (1994), 48 ff.

51. Gumana v. Northern Territory [2005] FCA 50 per Selway J.

52. I Hunt er, in Goot and Rows e (e ds), op. ci t., 97.

53. H Hughes and J Warin, Ce ntr e fo r In depe nde n t St udie s, quo ted in The Wee ken d Aus tra li an, 5- 6 M a r c h, 20 05.

54. The Australian, 18 February, 2005.

55. Ibid..

56. The Weekend Australian, 12-13 June, 2004.

57. The Australian, 8 December, 2004.

58. The Sydney Morning Herald ( Good Weekend supplement), 15 June, 2002.

59. The Weekend Australian, 19-20 February, 2005.

60. The Australian, 24 February, 2005.

61. ABC Radio, P M programme, 23 February, 2005.

62. The Australian, 18 February, 2005.

63. Ge rhar dy v. Bro wn (1 985) 15 9 CLR 70.

64. B Hor rig an, Pr acti cal Impl ic a t i ons fo r Fi nancie rs, Lan d Dea le rs, In ves tor s and Pr ofe ssi ona l Adv is ers, in B Hor rig an and S You ng (e ds), Comme rci al Impl ic a t i ons of Native Title, Federation Press, 1997, 228.

65. Courier Mail, 31 August, 2002.

66. The Australian, 27 March, 2002.

67. Ibid..

68. Courier Mail, 27 July, 2002.

69. They survive in all our jurisdictions under various modern names.

–  –  –

Behind the scenes, beyond the scrutiny of either P a r l i a m e n t or press, a n unpublicised political stand-off between t h e S t a t e s a n d the Commonwealth i s currently threatening to sink a r a r e b i p a r t i s a n move a t a n a t i o n a l level t o introduce proof of identity for enrolment for Australia’s 12 million-plus voters.

New l a w s, p a s s e d l a s t year in the Commonwealth P a r l i a m e n t, h a d been expected to be operational A u s t r a l i a - w i d e i n t h r e e m o n t h s t i m e, f r o m 1 July, 2005, and thus bring to an end perennial scandals over allegations of electoral fraud.

After nine months, the new laws have not even been proclaimed. In simple terms, they have been blocked by the States – in particular, by Queensland.

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