QSA ID 611200: Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act Amendment Act 1978

With multi-national companies having been granted the right to mine bauxite at Weipa in 1959 and Mapoon in 1963, it appeared that Aurukun on western Cape York Peninsula would be the next Aboriginal reserve to be targeted when the Queensland Government passed the Aurukun Associates Agreement Act in 1975. On this occasion, however, the Wik people took action by forcibly expelling mining staff while Aboriginal elder Donald Peinkinna challenged the validity of the agreement in the Queensland Supreme Court. Although the arguments of Peinkinna’s lawyers were accepted, the Queensland Government appealed to the Privy Council rather than the High Court of Australia, where the original judgement was overturned in 1978. The decision prompted the Commonwealth government to intervene by attempting to take control of Aurukun and Mornington Island away from the State Government after passing legislation allowing both Aboriginal communities a degree of self-management. The counter response of the Queensland Government was to pass the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act which reclassified Aurukun and Mornington Island as local shires with elected councillors and thus placed them beyond the reach of federal jurisdiction. Ironically, and clearly unintentionally, that move was a major turning point for the Wik people of Aurukun, for they were no longer forced to bow to direct pressure from either the State Government or the Presbyterian Church which had operated Aurukun as an Aboriginal mission. The legislation proved to be an important step towards the 1996 Wik Decision when the High Court of Australia decided inter alia that all mining operations had to be negotiated with Native Title holders.


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