Defamation ruling against Green Left article

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Defamation ruling against Green Left article

By Dot Tumney

A ruling on November 26 by the District Court of South Australia awarded damages of $100,000 and costs of $11,000 to the former developers of the Kumarangk (Hindmarsh Island) bridge, located in the lower Murray area of SA.

Justice Lowrie decided that the co-defendants, archaeologist Neale Draper and Margaret Allan had defamed the developers, Wendy, Tom and Andrew Chapman, in an article in Green Left Weekly published on March 12, 1997. The court ruled that the co-defendants would be jointly and severally responsible for the total damages.

The article was an interview with Draper, a former state government archaeologist and anthropologist, who discussed the government's role in the handling of the application to build a bridge to Kumarangk.

Application for building the bridge from Goolwa to Kumarangk was first made in the late '80s. In 1995, federal minister for Aboriginal affairs Robert Tickner put a 25-year ban on the building of the bridge. Later, the Howard government enacted a special law called the Hindmarsh Island Bridge Act 1997, allowing the construction to go ahead. A High Court appeal by the Ngarrindjeri women against the validity of this law was unsuccessful.

The Ngarrindjeri women who protested against the building of the bridge say that Goolwa and Kumarangk are sacred places — sites for secret women's business. Others raised concerns about the environmental impact of the construction and subsequent human activity.

Spokesperson for the Kumarangk Legal Defence Fund Tom Glynn said on November 26, "We are disappointed by today's verdict. However, we note that this was a finding of a white court on issues (partly) of Aboriginal consultation and heritage but the court did not hear from any Ngarrindjeri people.

"We hope that the Ngarrindjeri people will be heard in other cases, as this is only one of several cases which address similar themes. We don't believe there is a precedent set here and are confident of a different outcome at later trials.

"There are also wider issues which this verdict brings into consideration. Defamation cases are complex and expensive. Given the number of cases against individuals and small community groups over Hindmarsh Island, there are serious issues of access to justice to be addressed."

Green Left is appealing for donations to help pay legal costs incurred in this case. Contributions can be sent to Green Left Weekly, PO Box 394, Broadway 2007.

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