ALA National Civil Justice Award 2012

26th Oct 2012

Justice crusaders Eddie Mabo and David Manne are this year’s winners of the Australian Lawyers Alliance National Civil Justice Award.

In announcing the award before about 150 lawyers and academics at the Australian Lawyers Alliance National Conference, ALA National President, Tony Kerin, said Australia was a far better place for the contribution both men had made towards improving justice in the nation.

“The posthumous award for Mr Mabo, recognises the courage and determination of one Torres Strait Islander who took on an erroneous system that removed Indigenous people’s right to inherit land under traditional ownership laws and the impact that Mr Mabo’s legal win had in advancing Indigenous people’s rights and dignity in Australia today,” Mr Kerin said.

“Mr Manne’s award recognises his legal skills in scuttling the federal government’s ‘Malaysian Solution’, as well as work successfully challenging the rejection of protective refugee visas using negative security assessments by ASIO.”

Both men were successful in advancing rights through challenges in the Australian High Court with Mr Mabo challenging the false legal precedent of “terra nullius” that Australia was uninhabited at the time of European occupation. His challenge came about after work as a gardener at James Cook University in 1981 led him to exploring his rights as a traditional owner from the Island of Mer in Torres Strait.

The first challenge Mabo v Queensland (No 1) went to the High Court in 1988 and was a significant step towards recognition of the existence of Native Title rights after a finding that the Queensland Coast Islands Declaratory Act, which attempted to retrospectively abolish native title rights, was invalid under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Mabo v Queensland (No 2), followed and was decided in the High Court in 1992 when the Meriam people of Mer Island, including Eddie Mabo, won their contest to the retrospective expunging of their native title rights under the imposition of the 1985 Queensland Coast Islands Declaratory Act on the basis that the act contravened their human right to own and inherit property.

“Mr Mabo died of cancer at the age of 56, 10 years after starting the High Court action and never lived to see the successful determination, five months later, or learn of the significance of his win, in terms of Australia’s common law system and the native title rights of Indigenous people,” Mr Kerin said.

Co-winner David Manne is best known for successfully challenging the federal government’s offshore refugee processing plan, the ‘Malaysian Solution’, in the High Court last year, the court ruling that the solution contravened international conventions binding Australia to protect asylum seekers. By processing asylum seekers in a country that was not a signatory to international human rights laws, Australia was in breach of its international obligations and acting unlawfully with such a plan.

This month, Mr Manne had another win after his client, a 36-year-old Sri Lankan man, found to be a refugee, was refused a protection visa after an adverse security assessment. The High Court ruled, in that decision, that the public interest test, which is used to reject visa applications on security grounds, was invalid, because it was NOT consistent with Australia's Migration Act.

As part of the proceedings, Mr Manne, called for his client to be granted his freedom and warned of further legal action if the government failed to review all similar cases. He also called for the federal government to hasten its review of ASIO security assessments and to bring Australia in line with countries such as Britain, Canada and New Zealand, which allowed for security decisions to be reviewed using alternative methods of monitoring refugees deemed security threats.

Mr Mabo’s daughter, Gail Mabo, collected the award on behalf of her father and expressed pride in her father’s achievements for the nation. Mr Manne was also at the conference to collect his award and expressed his appreciation for the recognition from his peers.

Tags: Migration law Asylum seekers and refugees Civil Justice Award Indigenous rights