As Lauredhel noted this morning, the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation (BAC) will take legal action against the federal government’s Northern Territory intervention in the High Court in an attempt to stop legislative changes that would threaten the viability of Maningrida and other communities and their 32 outstations.

The BAC operates one of the largest CDEP programs in the country, with over 600 employees. As such, they stand to lose greatly from the cessation of CDEP and are threatened with the closure of the corporation altogether. This would seriously endanger the livelihoods of the 800 people living on the outstations serviced by the BAC, based in Maningrida.

There is apparently sound basis for this case, although most of the reports seem to imply that it rests on the interpretation of one phrase, just compensation. That aside, St John Frawley, a Melbourne based lawyer representing the BAC, believes the case is strong:

The acquisition under the powers under which the Act is made mean that the acquisition should be on just terms, and we say that the acquisition is other than on just terms, for a number of reasons.

I just love the way lawyers make me have to re-read a sentence several times.

As is always expected, Brough is crying political conspiracy, harking on about how David Dalrymple, one of the lawyers working on the case, is in bed with the NT Labor party, literally:

This has now been in for over three months, and what I am doing is simply stating what I understand to be the facts.
That is that the lawyer taking this up is the husband of the Labor Minister from the Northern Territory who has just condemned every aspect of it.

Big deal! It’s up to the High Court at the end of the day, and presumably they don’t care who’s married to whom.

While we’re on the subject of the NT government; they’re not formally supporting the legal action but have reiterated their criticisms of some aspects of the intervention strategy, specifically those with which this case is concerned.

"We didn’t see the link between ending the permit system and protecting children," [NT Chief Minister Clare Martin] said.
"We as Government didn’t see the link between protecting children and five-year leases, and I’ve been clear about that all along."

It is likely a matter of political expedience that Martin won’t support the legal action any further, since Kevin "07" Rudd has given his (in principle) support to the intervention and, with an election just four weeks from today, could do without any more embarrassments from the state governments.

This single case could also have much wider implications in the Territory and elsewhere, as the legal representatives of the BAC believe it could render invalid the entire foundation for the removal of aboriginal assets, including the forced leasing of land.

"My understanding is if we’re successful in this action, then the Commonwealth will not be able to compulsorily acquire land elsewhere in the Northern Territory," [Ian Munro from Maningrida’s Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation] said.

Even if this case doesn’t invalidate this particularly hairy part of the intervention legislation, it could set a legal precedent for other communities to pursue similar legal action against the government. It could in effect become a landmark case for indigenous sovereignty in this country; it’d potentially be right up there with the Mabo and Wik decisions. Just imagine: Mabo, Wik and Bawinanga.

A final bit of good news, as it’s considered a matter of urgency, the High Court is listing this case as a high priority and will hold a directions hearing next Thursday.


In case you were wondering about the title for this post, it’s an allusion to the meaning of the place-name Maningrida, which, according to the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, is an anglicisation of the Djeebbana (Ethnologue’s spelling) name Manayingkarírra, which comes from a phrase mane djang karirra and basically means ‘place where the dreaming changed shape’.

Perhaps someone who’s more knowledgeable than me in the Burarran languages can verify this and provide a morpheme gloss or something. It’s not that I doubt it at all, but it would interest me nonetheless.