By Melanie sjoberg
ADELAIDE — The 25-year ban on the building of a controversial bridge to Hindmarsh Island, south of Adelaide, continues to generate debate.
South Australian Liberal Premier Dean Brown announced a royal commission into the issue on June 13. The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, on behalf of the Ngarrindjeri women at the centre of the controversy, has declared its strong opposition.
The ALRM stated that the royal commission may result in grave breaches of the Commonwealth Discrimination Act and the international convention on the elimination of racism.
"To hold a Royal Commission to determine whether or not the beliefs of Aboriginal women are a fabrication, is to subject them to a scrutiny and inquisition that other members of the community with different religions and beliefs are not required to undergo. This is not a Royal Commission into whether or not a bridge should be built, it is a Royal Commission directed solely to whether the beliefs of Aboriginal women are valid", the ALRM said in a statement.
"The narrow focus of the Royal Commission may result in breaches of natural justice. Brown has indicated that parties or witnesses may even have their rights to independent counsel restricted."
The ALRM pointed out that the commission's terms of reference are solely the question of "fabrication" of women's business and exclude "the role of the media and means used by journalists to obtain information from Aboriginal people regarding women's beliefs" and the state government's failure to investigate the women's beliefs before it authorised destruction of the bridge site in May 1994.
The state royal commission was also made unnecessary by the federal inquiry, which is "legally correct, not infringing fundamental human rights".
Doreen Kartinyeri, one of the women concerned, has described the establishment of the commission as "hypocritical and cynical". She noted that Brown's government "ordered the report in which the spiritual significance of the bridge site was first revealed. He ignored that report and gave Ngarrindjeri women no alternative but to seek Federal intervention to protect that site."
Katrina Power, chairperson of Tandanya (Aboriginal Cultural Centre), said, "How long did it take to get a royal commission into black deaths in custody? The cries of Aboriginal mothers were ignored for years while our sons were dying. Yet the wealthy Chapmans [proponents of the bridge] and a few disgruntled politicians manage to organise a royal commission into this issue on the basis of the stories of five women."
"It is our fundamental belief that the Hindmarsh Island bridge will be stopped. We are prepared to go to jail rather than testify to a commission that we do not support", Katrina concluded.
A march to oppose the royal commission will be held on Friday, July 7, 12 noon, from Parliament House to Victoria Square.