A NORTHERN Territory community is challenging the constitutional validity of the Federal Government’s acquisition of property under the Emergency Response Act.
Proceedings were instituted in the High Court last week on behalf of Reggie Wurridjal and the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation from the Arnhem Land community of Maningrida, east of Darwin.
St John Frawley of Holding Redlich and retired Federal Court judge Ron Merkel are representing the plaintiffs, who argue that the acquisition of property under the Emergency Response Act has not been carried out on “just terms” as required under section 51(xxxi) of the Constitution.
“The case is concerned solely with the constitutional validity of the provisions in the Emergency Response Act that lead to the compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land and the assets of Aboriginal corporations that conduct business and enterprises within the townships,” Frawley said.
A directions hearing was scheduled to be held in Melbourne on Thursday this week, and the plaintiffs are hoping for a final hearing early in the New Year.
Maningrida is one of 73 communities that have been under Federal Government control since the emergency intervention began, following the Little Children Are Sacred report into child abuse in Aboriginal communities.
Under the emergency provisions, reactions to which have been mixed, the Commonwealth will compulsorily acquire full ownership of the Maningrida township for five years, including all land, businesses and other assets.
The emergency response also abolishes the land permit system, which until now has prevented public access on Aboriginal land.
Frawley said the impact this would have on the community was enormous — both as a practical and emotional matter.
“Imagine if I can say someone else is suddenly going to own all your land and the businesses in your township. It’s a very significant impact both as a practical matter and an emotional matter,” he said.
“Bawinanga is a very substantial corporation that runs all sorts of community services and community business enterprises that generate income for the corporation and the community as well, and all of that would transfer to the Commonwealth.”