833. Local Mediation Panels. Proposals for local justice mechanisms which do not involve the exercise of judicial power but focus on mediation and conciliation and a greater voice for Aborigines in the existing criminal justice system pose fewer problems of implementation than proposals for ‘Aboriginal courts’. Either as an alternative to courts or in addition to them, local mediation panels might be established to help resolve disagreements and disputes involving Aborigines. The Community Justice Centres in New South Wales perhaps provide a model, which need not be limited to remote Aboriginal communities but may be also appropriate in cities and country towns. They would also not have to be restricted to inter-Aboriginal disputes. The Aboriginal courts in Queensland have specific powers to hear and determine disputes and to do so ‘in accordance with the usages and customs of the community within its area. How much this power is used will depend on the level of community acceptance of the Aboriginal court as the appropriate forum for local disputes. It may be considered preferable to keep such disputes outside a public forum of this kind.
834. Demand for Such Forums? The Commission has received very few submissions arguing for this type of forum. The discussion of dispute resolution at Edward River suggests that disputes sometimes escalate, leading to offences and injury to people because there is no appropriate forum for persons to work out disagreements. It has been suggested that some members of the community are looking for alternative ways to resolve local disputes. A submission to this effect was made to the Commission by members of the Kowanyama Community:
… where arrests were made because of fights either within or between families, the best way to deal with the matter would be to conduct a conference involving the families of the persons fighting so that they might settle their differences rather than bringing individual offenders before a court for the purpose of punishment.
On the other hand, it may be that in the more traditional Aboriginal communities there are already ways available to work out inter-Aboriginal disputes, and that a mediation panel is more suitable for other less homogeneous communities. In either case, support could be given to such mediation schemes both administratively, and through a legislative provision allowing courts to defer to the operation of such schemes (e.g. through adjourning proceedings in appropriate cases).