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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Reworked espionage laws criminalise dissent


Today, for the first time ever and in a demonstration of unity, ABC, News Corp, and Nine Entertainment executives will speak at the National Press Club about freedom of the press.

This is a hot issue in the wake of the AFP raids on the ABC and the home of journalist Annika Smethurst. But the curtailing of democratic freedoms is bigger than the press. New “espionage” laws could capture the critical work NGOs and advocates do in holding our government to account.

Changes to espionage laws passed in 2018 - and backed by both major parties - criminalise dissent. These laws could be used to target think tanks and other NGOs whose advocacy is unflattering to the government of the day.

The laws are dangerous and undemocratic. They make it a crime to publish information that could prejudice Australia’s national security if the publisher is reckless in assessing the potential national security risk. This might not sound shocking but the devil is in the detail. The definition of “national security” goes beyond the usual concepts of defence and counter-terrorism, extending to Australia’s international political or economic relations. That broad definition could capture reporting or advocacy on Australia’s export or import commodities, like iron ore, coal, gold, natural gas and even education.

Making the new laws even wider in application, information does not have to be classified, nor does it have to be leaked from a government source. That is, the laws don’t just target spies and whistleblowers, they criminalise publication of any sensitive information. The penalties are severe - some as high as 25 years or life imprisonment.

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Media release: W + J / Adani hearing today shows how big corporate money can lock out First Nations communities from accessing their rights

Today the Federal Court of Australia will hear the case from Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners who oppose the Adani Carmichael mine development on their lands.

Adrian Burragubba and Wangan and Jagalingou community members represented by the W&J Council have been challenging the Adani mine for four years through the courts and were almost prevented from having their current appeal heard because of the huge financial barriers to people seeking to hold corporations accountable in Australian courts.

“The story of the Wangan and Jagalingou community and Adani is part of a broader story in Australia, where many First Nations communities are prevented from accessing their rights because of  the huge expense involved in bringing important public interest cases to court, and the massive imbalance in financial means between these communities and the corporations they are seeking to hold accountable  under the bright lights of court,” said Isabelle Reinecke, Founder and Executive Director of the Grata Fund.

Upon application for hearing the appeal in  the Full Federal Court, Justice Robertson said he believed Mr Burragubba and his co-plaintiffs do have a case to be heard. Despite this, Adani asked the court for a guillotine order forcing Adrian and his co-plaintiffs to provide $160,000 as surety before the case was heard. Justice Roberts reduced this and ordered the five appellents  pay $50,000 into court within a matter of weeks or drop the appeal. Still too much for the community to cover alone, Grata Fund was able to step in and provide the $50,000 required within hours of the deadline.

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High Court decision could spell trouble for the right to protest


Yesterday morning, in a victory for women, the High Court upheld laws that establish 150 metre safe access zones around abortion providers in Victoria and Tasmania. Similar laws exist in NSW. The decision affirms women’s rights to access reproductive healthcare free from unwelcome interventions by anti-abortion activists. Australia’s highest court has recognised that the protection of women’s dignity in accessing health services is a legitimate purpose for the laws to address.

That is something to celebrate. But, notwithstanding the progress towards reproductive justice that the decision represents, aspects of the court’s reasoning are problematic.

In 2016, an anti-abortion activist, Ms Clubb, approached a couple attempting to access an abortion clinic in East Melbourne, spoke to them, and attempted to hand them a pamphlet discouraging abortion - in breach of the Victorian law. When she was charged she argued the law was invalid because it infringed the constitutional implied freedom of political communication. This freedom extends to communications on “governmental and political matters”. If a law restricts communications on such matters, the court will have to consider if the restriction is justified.

While the majority of the court ultimately decided that the laws in Victoria and Tasmania are justified, the court did not decide whether Ms Clubb’s communication was, in fact, political. Three of the seven judges accepted that the conduct was not political. They accepted that Ms Clubb’s conduct was directed solely at dissuading the woman from having an abortion, and was not addressed to law or policy makers, and did not seek to influence a vote. The communication was about moral and ethical choices by an individual, not political choices by the public.

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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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Your fetus is precious but not a person, no matter what Fred Nile says


Living in the United States, I witnessed first-hand the ways that “fetal personhood” laws are used to punish women and police their pregnancies. Although touted as laws to protect women, fetal personhood laws dilute reproductive rights. The impact on women can be severe. So, when I returned to Australia this year, I was disappointed that Zoe’s Law, Fred Nile’s fetal personhood bill, was back on NSW’s agenda.

But I was alarmed when Premier Gladys Berejiklian yesterday announced her government’s support for a law of this kind.

Currently, NSW law allows for a person to be charged with causing grievous bodily harm to a pregnant woman - and that includes harm to her fetus. But there is no separate crime regarding the fetus, because the law does not recognise a fetus as a legal person. “Zoe’s Law” is Fred Nile’s bill to introduce this specific crime. It follows several tragic road deaths, in which heavily pregnant women were killed and/or their fetuses destroyed. If Nile’s bill becomes law, a person who seriously injures a pregnant woman could be charged with harming both the woman and her fetus.

Nile has tried and failed to get this bill up before. He’s faced strong criticism from women’s advocates. Concerns include the law being used to prosecute women or doctors for ending pregnancies (because abortions necessarily involve the destruction of a fetus). The Nationals have proposed amendments to Nile’s bill to exclude abortions from it. Premier Gladys Berejiklian says her government would propose its own version, also excluding abortion, if re-elected.

But, even if abortion is excluded, recognising a fetus as having legal rights that otherwise only apply after birth remains problematic. We only need to look at the recent experiences of women in the US to understand why.

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