The Australian High Court will tomorrow begin hearing proceedings of a legal challenge to the Federal Government's Northern Territory intervention.
If the constitutional challenge is successful it may deem both the intervention and the plan to abolish land permits invalid.
The small Aboriginal community of Maningrida in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory may soon be the focus of the entire country. The Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation who run a number of services in the area and traditional owner Reggie Wuridjal have challenged the validity of the Northern Territory Emergency Response Act. They claim the compulsory acquisition of land by the Federal Government and the plan to abolish land permits is illegal.
ST JOHN FRAWLEY, BARRISTER: There's no immediate right to compensation, there's no immediate right to have rent paid.
TONY MUNRO, CEO BAC: The Northern Territory Emergency Response Act which gives the minister the power to seize all of our assets and apply them to his own services or re-assign ownership of them. Now if that was to happen that interferes drastically with our capacity to continue to do business to provide services.
The High Court will have a directions hearing tomorrow where it's expected to decide when the case will be heard.
ST JOHN FRAWLEY: We're hoping that the hearing might come on early next year, perhaps somewhere around February or March.
By that time there could be a different party in power at federal level, but that will make no difference to those putting forward the legal challenge.
IAN MUNRO: This is not about politics, it's not about children, it's not about alcohol, it's not about pornography or any of the other measures. What this is about is trying to get certainty for members of the Corporation.
Even though the legal challenge isn't based on politics, the intervention is polarising communities in the Northern Territory.
MARION SCRYMGOUR, ARAFURA MEMBER: This was Howard's rabbit out of the hat, his black kids' 'Tampa'.
Northern Territory Family and Community Services Minister Marion Scrymgour heavily criticised the intervention, this week backing away from her comments which were criticised by members of both the Liberal and Labor parties.
ALISON ANDERSON: Unlike my colleagues, since the intervention started, I've been out there speaking to people and living in people's verandas and living rooms and talking to them in their first language and I just want to make it very very clear that I have the support of men, women and children and old ladies in my electorate and in my community.
But if the Maningrida legal challenge is successful, the other 72 communities under the intervention could also be in a position to stop the Federal Government taking control of their land.
ST JOHN FRAWLEY: Although the judgement would only effect the two plaintiffs in this proceeding, obviously communities and traditional owners in other communities who find themselves in similar circumstances would have a strong precedent there for proceeding to argue their own case.
This could lead to the intervention taking a different direction, something Mr Munro welcomes.
IAN MUNRO: All Aboriginal communities in the NT are in desperate need of infrastructure and services. The way this should be done is for the government to consult with Aboriginal people on the ground about the services and infrastructure that they need and devise a plan of implementing that in the best way.