Yorta Yorta decision shameful

December 12, 2002

Today's decision on the Yorta Yorta High Court appeal will be remembered as a shameful event in Australia's history.

In 1998 the Fedral Court's Justice Olney said that the 'tide of history has indeed washed away any real acknowledgement of [Yorta Yorta peoples] traditional laws and any real observance of their traditional customs'. In reconsidering Justice Olney's genocidal verdict, 5 out of 7 high court judges upheld his decision.

"This judgement brings no honour to Australia's legal system. The Yorta Yorta are the traditional owners of around 20,000 square kilometres of land and waterways. They continue to practice and maintain culture and traditional law. They actively work to protect Country and Culture, and have always done so in the face of white invasion and dispossession attempts over Yorta Yorta Country", said Ms Indira Narayan, spokesperson of the Barmah Millewa Collective of Friends of the Earth.

"Friends of the Earth has worked for many years with the Yorta Yorta Nation and it is clear that this community maintains very strong day to day connections to their land and waters. This is obvious to anyone who spends time in the region. Friends of the Earth supports the Yorta Yorta seeking Native Tile rights over their Traditional Country", said Mr Cam Walker, campaigns co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth.

"Friends of the Earth and the Yorta Yorta Nation have been jointly campaigning to return title and management rights over the Barmah and Millewa red gum forests on either side of the Murray River to the Yorta Yorta Nation as a jointly managed National Park. The Yorta Yorta have consistently demanded better land and water management over their country and self-determined rights over cultural heritage management. The Yorta Yorta are inspirational leaders in demanding legal recognition of their sovereignty over Country. Clearly the Court system has failed the Yorta Yorta people."

There can be no reconciliation when there is Land Injustice. The Victorian, New South Wales and federal governments have opposed the Yorta Yorta native title claim. "Given its self-claimed credentials of being 'socially progressive', the Victorian governments opposition was especially hypocritical. The Bracks government must follow State ALP policy (*) and negotiate in good faith with the Yorta Yorta for satisfactory outcomes with regards to returning title of, access to, and control over, their traditional lands", said Mr Walker.

For further comment contact:

Indira Narayan
Mob: 0409 257 354

Cam Walker
Mob: 0419 338 047
http://www.melbourne.foe.org.au

Note:

In May 2002 the Victorian State ALP Conference amended the ALP Indigenous affairs policy:
PART THREE Objective: Increasing native title and Indigenous management
(1) That the State Platform be amended to read: "A Victorian Labor Government will assist Aboriginal people with their preparation of Native Title claims of Crown lands in Victoria. The Government will also, in the case of claims applying to Crown lands that the Government is satisfied are justified, unilaterally grant those claims without requiring claimants to go through the Courts."
(2) Propose that ownership be granted of Barmah Forest and Dharnya Educational Centre to the Yorta Yorta people, as a grant of Land Rights on Crown Land. That the Government commence Native Title negotiation with the Yorta Yorta people over their wider Native Title claim of the Murray-Goulburn basin (in conjunction with the NSW government).
(3) That the Victorian government withdraw its legal opposition to the just Native Title claims of the Yorta Yorta people.