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Date: Mon, 20 Oct 1997 20:32:22 -0500
To: nattyreb@ix.netcom.com
From: Jim f Yvonne Duffield <staffy@OMEN.COM.AU>
(by way of Michael Novick <mnovick@laedu.lalc.k12.ca.us>)
Subject: [WILDER-L] LL:NIWG Urgent Action Bulletin

Australian government tries to turn back the clock to the days of dispossession

Urgent Action Bulletin of the National Indigenous Working Group
October 1997

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia have only had their land rights recognised since 1992. In that year the High Court finally overthrew the 200-year-old legal fiction of 'terra nullius' - that Australia was an uninhabited land that belonged to no-one when it was colonised. The 1992 decision, known as Mabo, created for the first time the concept of 'native title'.

A 1996 decision, known as Wik, clarified what 'native title' meant. In particular, it became clear that native title could still exist on land covered by 'pastoral leases' - the huge sheep and cattle ranches which cover much of outback Australia and on which many Aboriginal people continue to live.

These two decisions, while still leaving Australia far behind many 'Third World' countries in its recognition of indigenous rights, have been fiercely opposed by the powerful farming and mining industries. As a result, the government is trying to undermine the legal victories won by indigenous peoples.

The Prime Minister John Howard has proposed amendments to the Native Title Act which will render these victories meaningless. Crucially, the amendments will make native title worthless on pastoral leases and leave many Aborigines unable even to claim native title in the first place. Together these measures will leave the huge majority of Aborigines with no meaningful rights to their land.

In a report to Parliament, the independent Australian Law Reform Commission called the Howard proposals unconstitutional and racially discriminatory. The government is alleged to have tried to suppress the report.

The Aboriginal representative Mick Dodson has said, "If you take our land, you take the ground of our culture. If you keep on taking there will be nothing left."


Please write a polite letter to the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard.

Please make the following points:

  • The Native Title Amendment Bill is racially discriminatory, unconstitutional and in violation of international law.
  • If passed, the Bill would leave most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people without any meaningful rights to their lands.
  • The loss of their land would compound the appalling discrimination which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples currently experience in areas such as health, education, employment and criminal justice.
  • Native title is the only real basis for social justice in Australia. It must be protected and not undermined.

The NIWG, a coalition of leading Aboriginal organisations, plans to present your letters of support at a series of high-profile events.

Please send your letter as soon as possible to:

c/o Anti-Slavery International
The Stableyard
Broomgrove Road
London SW9 9TL

Or fax it to: +44 (0)171 373 4416

Or e-mail it to: niwg@faira.demon.co.uk

Thank you for your support

[Richard Wakelam]
Anti-Slavery International
Look at our new Website : http://www.charitynet.org/~asi

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