Santa Teresa residents win!



Residents in the Aboriginal community of Santa Teresa will finally be compensated for the NT Government’s failure to maintain housing to a safe and healthy level after the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT) found the NT Government is legally obliged to provide habitable housing in remote communities.

The class action lawsuit was brought against the NT Government by 70 households after it failed to action over 600 urgent repairs, with some families waiting over five years. Many houses posed serious health and safety risks to residents, with some building structurally unsound, without running water, sewerage and ventilation despite the desert temperatures in the area regularly hoving above 40 degrees in summer and below zero in winter.

Grata Fund, the public interest litigation fund which financially supported the class action, hails the decision as a victory for the residents of Santa Teresa and all Aboriginal communities that have been systematically ignored by a Government that continues to fail to meet its basic responsibilities as a landlord in the community.

Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights (“ALRAR” have acted for the Santa Teresa residents in the case for over three years free of charge). ALRAR’s lead lawyer, Dan Kelly said, “Aboriginal communities, including the people of Santa Teresa, have fought long and hard to protect their rights while the Government has continued to fail to meet its basic responsibilities as a landlord in the community.   

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Law Society Journal Features Grata Fund Founder

Six Minutes with Isabelle Reinecke, Law Society Journal, February 2019

Media Release: W&J appeal will hold Adani accountable to Australian law, 25 Jan 2019

The UN has requested that construction of the Adani Carmichael mine be suspended until Adani obtains the consent of the Traditional Owners, the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) People,​ w​hich is currently the subject of an appeal in the Federal Court.

Grata Fund, the public interest litigation fund securing the costs on behalf of the​ W&J People, maintains that the appeal will resolve an important question of Australian native title law, despite Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan’s comments that the UN should “respect the Australian legal system”.

“In a democracy, it is the job of courts to hold everyone - including governments and major corporations - accountable to the law,” says Isabelle Reinecke, founder of Grata Fund.

“No government or mining company is above the law, and we have strict laws governing corporate access to Aboriginal land. The fact is that the law requires that members of the Native Title group, the W​angan and Jagalingou people must give their free, prior and informed consent.

“Minister Canavan’s comments, far from upholding Australian law, show a lack of respect for Australia’s legal system. The UN’s request is for the Australian Government to suspend the Carmichael Coal Mine until free, prior and informed consent of the Wangan and Jagalingou people is obtained.

“Grata Fund is proud to be supporting the ​Wangan and Jagalingou people in their efforts to protect their land and culture.

“The courts should not be accessible only to the rich, Grata’s purpose is to empower this type of citizen action to hold governments and corporations accountable to the law.”

CONTACT: Hannah Craft, 0423 377 965

Traditional owners appeal Adani Mine

Adani coal mine should be suspended, UN says, until all traditional owners support the project


The United Nations has asked the Australian Government to consider suspending the Adani project in central Queensland until it gains the support of a group of traditional owners who are fighting the miner in court.

A UN committee raised concerns that the Queensland coal project may violate Indigenous rights under an international convention against racial discrimination if it goes ahead, giving Australia until April to formally respond.

Meanwhile, a public interest legal fund backed by former corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald has stepped in with financial backing for a federal court challenge to Adani by its opponents within the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people.

The Grata Fund, which boasts the former federal court judge as a patron, agreed to pay a court-ordered $50,000 bond so W&J representatives can appeal a court ruling upholding a contentious land access deal secured by the miner.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination last month wrote to Australia's UN ambassador to raise concerns that consultation on Adani's Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) "might not have been conducted in good faith".

These allegations "notably" included that members of the W&J native title claim group were excluded, and the committee was concerned the project "does not enjoy free, prior and informed consent of all (W&J) representatives".

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Santa Teresa residents sue the NT Government

Santa Teresa residents are suing the NT Government over 'decrepit' housing, but it's countersuing, ABC 7.30, Nov 2018

Jasmine Cavanagh has lived in one house for most of her life — a two-bedroom concrete bunker in Santa Teresa, a remote community in the heart of Australia.

At times, it has been a struggle to raise her children in this home. Electrical points were faulty, the roof leaked, and there were major plumbing problems.

During bitterly cold desert winters, she and her partner could not sleep through the night. They were forced to wake up every few hours to clean the sewage and water leaking through their home.

The pair would take turns mopping to stop sewage reaching their bedrooms.

Ms Cavanagh's frustration led her to take an extraordinary step. She is suing the Northern Territory Government over a series of repairs she alleges went ignored for too long.

And she is not alone. Dozens of households in Santa Teresa, 80 kilometres south-east of Alice Springs, have joined this class action against the NT Government and the case is set to go before a tribunal next week.

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Commonwealth Bank settles discrimination claim

Commonwealth Bank settles discrimination claim by blind Australians over touchpad devices, ABC 7.30, Jan 2019

Commonwealth Bank has settled a discrimination case in the Federal Court launched by two blind Australians over the bank's customer touchpad terminals.

Nadia Mattiazzo and former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes began the landmark discrimination case against the bank in 2018 over the devices, which are found in thousands of Australian businesses.

Ms Mattiazzo said "there's a community expectation that things should be accessible, and it's a bit of a shock when community comes across something that isn't".

Mr Innes and Ms Mattiazo's case was financially supported by the Grata Fund, a new public interest litigation body set up in Australia.

"People really need to be able to hold corporations accountable to the law in courts, but the financial barriers in Australia are just too high," the fund's executive director Isabelle Reinecke told 7.30.

"It's a massive hurdle for people to bring public interest litigation. If you're facing having to pay a corporation or the government's legal bills if you lose, you're just not going to be able to take that risk on."


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ALRC Litigation Funding Inquiry

Grata Fund calls for adverse cost reform in submission to Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry, July 2018

The Australian Law Reform Commission's current Inquiry into Class Action Proceedings and Third Party Litigation Funding raises important questions about the role of funders in enabling access to justice in Australia.

Grata Fund's submission to the inquiry makes the case for reform to remove the significant financial barriers that block ordinary Australians from holding corporations and governments accountable in court.

"Until serious reform of our adverse cost system takes place, funders will only be able to scratch the surface of unmet need in our community for litigation funding in cases that protect our human, environmental and democratic rights", says Grata's Executive Director Isabelle Reinecke.

To read more, see Grata Fund's submission here.

People Powered Justice: Grata Fund

"Stories in Philanthropy", Nicole Richards, Philanthropy Australia, June 2018

Isabelle Reinecke was a ponytailed primary schooler when she began standing up for the rights of others.

Protesting federal funding cuts to the ABC which threatened kids’ programming, Reinecke wrote her first letter to the editor at the tender age of 10. Even then, years before any thought of a legal career took root, she intuited the value of evidence and promptly set about polling her classmates to document their viewing habits and their responses to the potential loss of their favourite tv shows to strengthen the case.

Twenty-odd years later, as founder and executive director of the Grata Fund, Reinecke is still fighting for others, albeit with a few more tools and a lot more experience (including time spent as Director of Legal and Governance at GetUp) at her disposal.

Named in honour of the first woman to practice law in Australia, Grata Flos Matilda Greig, the Grata Fund is a public benevolent institution that uses litigation to protect the rights of ordinary Australians. The Fund has already mounted and secured wins in several cases, including helping Doctors 4 Refugees successfully fight government gag laws.

“Public interest litigation is prohibitively expensive in Australia,” Reinecke explains.

“The cost risk of taking a case to the High Court can be as much as $200,000 which is obviously beyond the means of most Australians. The Grata Fund helps create systemic change on the issues of human rights, democracy and climate change by removing those financial barriers.”

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Cameron v The Commonwealth

"Schoolboy, 17, lodges discrimination complaint over same-sex marriage survey", Paul Karp, The Guardian

Cameron Warasta argues that decision to exclude 16- and 17-year-olds from postal plebiscite breaches Age Discrimination Act

A Victorian schoolboy has lodged a discrimination complaint against the federal government’s exclusion of 16- and 17-year-olds from voting in the same-sex marriage postal survey.

Cameron Warasta, 17, lodged a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission on Wednesday which could escalate to a federal court case to overturn the government direction excluding Australians under 18.

If successful, the challenge could give a vote on marriage equality to about 50,000 Australians aged 16 and 17 on the electoral roll.

Warasta, the son of two Afghan parents and a youth ambassador for Save the Children, lives in South Yarra and will turn 18 in November – after the survey results are announced.

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Australia's Shame


"Australia's shame on stage for the world to witness", Jennifer Robinson, The Sydney Morning Hearld

It's not every day you get invited to speak on the stage of New York's Lincoln Centre between the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and the woman who very nearly became the first female President of the US, Hillary Clinton – and just after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But such is the growing international concern about Australia's treatment of refugees in our offshore detention centres: I was invited to speak alongside whistleblowers Alanna Maycock and Viktoria Vibhakar at the Women in the World Summit about what they described as "Australia's Shame". President Trump's infamous first phone call with Prime Minister Turnbull calling the Australia-US refugee deal "dumb" brought global attention to Australia's offshore prisons – and gave us a global platform alongside world leaders.

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