General Conclusions

719. Representativeness of this Experience. These examples may not be representative of Aboriginal communities around Australia.[1000] In some Aboriginal communities new authority structures have been developed, for example, elected community councils. These have a predominantly administrative role and are usually run by younger, school educated Aborigines, but some have come to play an important part in maintaining order and resolving certain kinds of disputes. The role played by a council may depend on the status of the persons elected and the extent to which senior people in the community influence individual council members. It will also depend on the nature of the dispute. It would be more common for matters not related to Aboriginal laws or customs to be dealt with by the elected Council. For example, at Beswick (NT), trouble-makers are barred for set periods of time from the beer canteen by the Council, a decision based on community discussion. The Council determines the penalty and is responsible for ensuring compliance. Council members may also play a role in attempting to ‘settle people down’ if trouble erupts in the canteen. The Council prefers to play an active role of this kind rather than calling in the police. The Council in consultation with the elders also attempts to resolve other troubles that arise.[1001] At Angurugu (NT) the Council unofficially fines individuals for unacceptable behaviour (including interference with Council property) regardless of whether court proceedings take place. In other communities, Councils or individual Council members are regularly involved in mediating disputes.[1002] In Central Australia a number of Councils have on occasions requested the Aboriginal Legal Service not to represent individuals charged with offences which are of particular community concern (e.g. ‘grog-running’ into dry communities). The Legal Services have had little choice except to comply, but this raises difficult issues. On the other hand some communities, in order to distinguish the function of the elected council, have also chosen a tribal council which has primary authority in traditional matters. This has been done, for example, at Yuendumu (NT), Yirrkala (NT), Roper River (NT) and Yungngora Community (Noonkanbah, WA). It appears to be a fairly recent phenomenon.

720. Conclusion. Whatever form they may take, there is little doubt that in many Aboriginal communities unofficial methods of resolving disputes operate alongside the general legal system. These may work together to resolve problems: at other times, though less frequently, they are in direct conflict. Generally, the customary processes operating do have an important role to play. If disputes and conflicts within Aboriginal communities can be resolved in unofficial ways this should. be encouraged as a preferable alternative to reliance on the general legal system. However these customary processes have their limitations. No longer do they cover the whole range of disputes, conflicts and law and order problems arising within Aboriginal communities, nor do they seek to. The questions whether it is desirable that these customary processes be recognised by the general legal system and whether it is possible to do so, will be considered in Chapter 31.