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Litigating the boundaries of sovereignty in Australia


Sharlene King
22 May 2012
Support for the establishment of Aboriginal sovereignty in Australia is gaining momentum says a Southern Cross University legal academic who is co-convening a symposium on the issue this week in Wollongong.

'Litigating the boundaries of sovereignty’ is organised jointly by Southern Cross University and the University of Wollongong and will be held at University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus on Wednesday, May 23.

Among the guest speakers at the symposium is Michael Anderson, founder of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972.

“This symposium arrives at a crucial moment in Australia's legal and political history, particularly as a result of the recent events following the assertion of continuity of Aboriginal sovereignty released on the 26th of January this year,” said Dr Alessandro Pelizzon from Southern Cross University’s School of Law and Justice.

January 26, 2012 was the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. On that day a number of prominent Aboriginal activists advanced an articulated claim to the continuity of Aboriginal sovereignty in Australia. This claim to continuous sovereignty, uninfluenced by any proclamations to the contrary made by Captain Cook and Captain Phillips in 1770 and 1788 and uninterrupted by ever-changing colonial policies of the last two centuries, is supported by the use of cases, documents and doctrines that illustrate the possible existence of multiple coexisting sovereign claims on the same territorial jurisdiction.

“Sovereignty is indeed a complex concept, one that can be better thought of as ultimate self determination,” Dr Pelizzon said. “The issue of Indigenous sovereignty in a post-colonial world is one of extreme urgency at an international level today. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the recent UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues discussion on the impact of the Doctrine of Discovery are clear affirmation of that.

“The assertion of Aboriginal sovereignty in Australia is supported both by international principles and by a range of colonial documents, such as, for example, the South Pacific Protection Act of 1872 which we will be exploring in depth at the symposium. Consequently, the argument requires to be explored deeply and carefully and it might well lead to a redefinition of Australian legal identity by leading to a Treaty, as advocated multiple times in the last four decades.”

The symposium will specifically focus on discussing the complexities of litigating claims of Aboriginal sovereignty as a public interest issue by focusing on three case studies. It will bring together leading Aboriginal activists, legal practitioners and scholars in the areas of law, politics and public culture.

Confirmed speakers are:

• Michael Anderson, founder of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972
• Fred Hooper, Chair of the Northern Murray–Darling Basin Aboriginal Nations
• Dr Charles Hawksley, University of Wollongong
• Roy 'Dootch' Kennedy, Sandon Point Aboriginal Tent Embassy
• Bruce Sinclair, Metis theatre artist, teacher and arts administrator, Canada Council for the Arts
• Virginia Marshall, solicitor

The symposium convenors are Dr Pelizzon and Professor Elena Marchetti from the University of Wollongong’s Faculty of Law.

Dr Pelizzon completed a PhD in 2011 at the University of Wollongong on ‘Native Title and Legal Pluralism in the Illawarra’. His thesis is about to be published as a book under the title, 'Laws of the Land - Traditional Protocols, Native Title and Legal Pluralism in the Illawarra'.
Photo: Dr Alessandro Pelizzon. Event: ‘Litigating the Boundaries of Sovereignty’ Symposium is on Wednesday 23 May 2012 from 9am to 5pm at the University of Wollongong, Innovation Campus, ITAMS Building 233, Room G12.