And the occifer said
Better get a lawyer son
Better get a real good one
Better get a lawyer son
Better get a real good one*

Yesterday morning Jeremy Geia appeared in the Canberra Magistrates Court after three days in custody following his arrest last Friday morning.

Geia—aka Murrumu Walubara Yidindji—had allegedly failed to comply with orders for him to quit his occupation of an ACT government house that he claimed to have established as an embassy for the Yidinji people, an Aboriginal group from the Cairns area in north Queensland.

That Geia spent three days in chokey on a minor trespass-related charge—that would normally attract a fine and be the subject of a summons following release on police bail—is explained by this statement from ACT Police.

[Geia] was informed that he was entitled to bail under Section 8 of the Bail Act but given he did not recognise the Australian Law System bail was refused under Section 22 of the Bail Act. Watch House Bail was refused as the defendant stated that he would not attend court as per the undertakings required.

When Geia appeared before Magistrate Bernadette Boss yesterday morning he refused to cooperate or acknowledge the authority or jurisdiction of the court, telling her not to interrupt him while he was speaking. Geia was removed from court twice before magistrate Boss adjourned his matter. As she left the bench Geia shouted to the court that “He who leaves the battlefield first loses by default. I dismiss all charges.”

Magistrates face all manner of strange utterances and conduct in their courts and usually make every effort to avoid disruptions to proceedings so when Geia was bought back before her magistrate Boss ordered that he be placed in a remote witness room and appear by video link. The audio feed from that room was muted.

Due to Geia’s lack of cooperation Boss entered a “not guilty” plea on his behalf and, notwithstanding his unusual conduct, proceeded to upbraid the prosecution for its conduct of the matter. As Daniel Hurst reported in The Guardian yesterday, Boss:

… asked whether the prosecution would pursue the charge and Mansfield said that it would do so. Boss told the prosecutor: “I hope your director [of public prosecutions] is well aware of the course of action you’re taking.”

She said she was “very keen” to speed up the matter and adjourned the case to 16 February. “The defendant is released unconditionally,” she said. “I dispense with bail.”

Geia, previously a Canberra press gallery journalist of standing and experience, most recently came to attention for his announcement in early 2014 that he had renounced Australian citizenship and:

… returned his passport and Medicare card to the Australian Commonwealth, and sent his driver’s licence back to the chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory, where he then lived. Then Murrumu – who has since returned to live permanently in Yidindji country – quit his job, gave away most possessions and walked away from his bank savings and a superannuation account built up over two decades.

As Paul Daley reported in The Guardian before Geia’s arrest last Friday, Geia had been driving—presumably without licence, registration and insurance—around Canberra in a car with registration “licensed to the sovereign Yidindji government.”

Geia went on to tell Daley that:

The Yidindji tribal people are not bound by any laws created subject to the Australian constitution – they are of superior jurisdiction and Australian citizens, including Australian police, must be very careful when encountering people of our jurisdiction. So the Yidindji police are there to protect the Yidindji people and to uphold the laws created by the sovereign Yidindji government.

Geia and the Yidindji aren’t the first to purport to revoke Australian sovereignty.

In April 1970 Leonard George Casley—better known as “Prince Leonard”—declared that his 4,000 hectare wheat/sheep farm in western Australia was the “Hutt River Province” (later a “Kingdom” and since 2006 the “Principality of Hutt River”). Casley’s claims have, apart from a few minor glitches, been tolerated with a degree of benign indifference by Australian governments.

One point of similarity between the assertions by Geia and Casley are their claims that Yidindji country and Hutt River are independent entities and that no other government can dispute their de-facto legality. You can see Prince Leonard’s claims at his quaintly clunky website here.

The Yidindji claims are more sophisticated than Casley’s but nonetheless difficult to comprehend.

The Yidindji Tribal Nation website contains a number of references to “Determinations” by the Yidinji Council of Elders – “we have deliberated the matter, we have spoken” – and refers to the establishment of a Yidindji Police Force and claims that the waters off Cairns are part of a Yidindji Marine Economic Zone.

An article by Mark McMurtrie, titled “Original Sovereign Tribes” contains assertions familiar to anyone who has studied what might be described as the resurgence of indigenous sovereignty movement.

The original inhabitants of the land commonly known as Australia have never relinquished their sovereign rights over their land … I shall reject the terms Indigenous, Aborigine or traditional peoples (and relative adjectives), preferring to them the more appropriate term Tribal peoples. The Tribal peoples of the land known as Australia today challenge all claims by British colonial settlers to any and all forms of sovereignty over the Pacific Island Continent commonly known as Australia. Among other arguments, the Tribal peoples’ assertions to the continuity of their never ceded sovereignty over their own land are based on the legal principles of the British colonial settlers themselves.

This sovereignty movement is seen by some, if not many, as well-meaning but mis-guided, perhaps at best a Quixotian tilt at the reassertion of long-lost rights and responsibilities. But for those within this movement it couldn’t be more serious.

And while Geia and his fellow travellers—see the website of the Sovereign Union – First Nations Asserting Sovereignty for example—assert their claims on the streets and the web, others have taken their claims to the courts.

Thus far they have been singularly unsuccessful in the prosecution of their claims. Three recent cases serve as examples.

Early on the morning of October 4 2010 Daniel Jordan Anning and a few of his mates broke into the house of a local doctor in the small north-western Queensland town of Normanton. After trashing his house they stole his car and proceeded to drive it around the town, abandoning it as a wreck in the street after they’d had their fun.

Anning was found guilty of unlawful use of a motor vehicle after a three-day jury trial in the Cairns District Court but saw fit to appeal to the Queensland Supreme Court of Appeal on the single ground that the verdict was unreasonable.

In September 2013 the Court delivered its decision, dismissing Anning’s appeal. Anning did not appear at Court for the hearing of his appeal, but had submitted two documents entitled “Response to Hearing,” the second of which contained 20 pages of assertions and arguments, which the court summarised as containing the following proposition:

(a)        the indigenous tribes of Australia, and in particular the Yidindji Tribe, are not subject to the laws of Queensland;

(b)        neither the Commonwealth nor Queensland is able to exert any sovereignty over the Yidindji Tribe, or the Yidindji Tribal Moiety; and

(c)        the Yidindji Tribal Moiety view themselves as the inalienable and permanent sovereigns of their area of Australia.

The final aspect was a declaration by the appellant that he did not consent “for this matter to be heard in any court other than a Yidindji Tribal Council of Elders Court or Common Law court de-jure with a jury of 12 peers”.  He went on: “No invitation to attend any other court will be accepted.  No legal jurisdiction other than Yidindji Tribal Council of Elders Court or Common Law will be recognised or understood.”

The primary judgement was delivered by Morrison JA, who was scathing of the claims by Anning:

One cannot help but feel that the document has been assembled by a random cutting and pasting from some other documents that have nothing to do with this appeal … That part of the submission is a meaningless jumble of ideas.

After lengthy consideration of the relevant legal authorities Morrison JA dismissed Anning’s application as being with any substance.

One problem with poorly-framed cases—particularly at an appellate level—is that they can make further challenges on similar grounds very difficult. Challenges to established law through the courts need to be strategic and carefully planned so as to bring the best possible case to the court.

Two examples involving the assertion of fundamental Aboriginal rights to land are illustrative. Mabo (No. 2) took ten years to wend its difficult path from the Supreme Court of Queensland to the High Court in 1992. Similarly, the Blue Mud Bay case – which found that 80 per cent of the NT coastline belonged to Aboriginal people – involved losses in the lower courts before eventual success in the High Court.

Anning’s case highlights the perils of establishing precedent through poorly thought through challenges to established law.

At the same time that Anning bought his appeal to the Queensland Court of Appeal, Nerissa Margarette Anderson launched an appeal to her conviction and fine in the Charters Towers Magistrates Court on a charge of failing to vote in the 2012 Queensland general election. In the magistrates court Anderson challenged the court’s jurisdiction, claiming that as a “sovereign Nudgen [sic] tribal woman” she was not subject to Australian law.

The only evidence that Anderson – who was unrepresented by a lawyer – tendered on appeal was a 25 page document that included material under the header ““NOTICE OF REBUTTAL OF CLAIM TO TITLE TO LAND AND CLAIM OF RIGHT.”

District Court Judge Irwin noted distinct similarities between the appeal documents in Anning’s case and Anderson’s appeal.

[55] To adopt the language of Morrison JA in R v Anning there are aspects of this document which suggest a haphazard approach to its compilation and suggest it has been assembled by a random cutting and pasting from some other documents which have nothing to do with this appeal.

[56] Anning is of particular relevance to the present appeal because the Queensland Court of Appeal was also concerned with a response which included the heading “NOTICE OF REBUTTAL OF CLAIM TO TITLE TO LAND AND CLAIM OF RIGHT” which advanced similar arguments to those advanced in the document relied on before me.  A further similarity is that court was concerned with an appeal by a person with a connection to Mareeba and evidence was given by his aunt, Isobelle Anderson.  It seems beyond coincidence that the name of the witness to the appellant’s electoral claim form is either Isobelle or Isabelle Anderson and this person gives a Mareeba address.  The limited level of understanding exhibited in argument before me by the appellant as to the contents of the document relied on strongly suggests it has been compiled by another person on her behalf or has been adapted from a document prepared by another person.

[59] I adopt his Honour’s observation that this part of the submission is a meaningless jumble of ideas.

After a long consideration of the relevant authorities and Nerissa Anderson’s submissions DCJ Irwin – adopting much of the language and approach of the court in Anning’s case – dismissed her appeal.

Anning’s case surfaced again in the recent application bought by Ngurampaa Ltd against the Balonne Shire Council in July 2014.

Ngurampaa’s case concerned an application for a stay of proceedings against the council on the basis that the levy of rates on land owned by Ngurampaa by the council was being challenged in the International Court of Justice, proceedings that apparently sought relief resting on the notion that sovereignty adverse to the Australian Crown resided in the self-declared Euahlayi People’s Republic.

Justice Philippides noted that Ngurampaa faced an “insurmountable difficulty.”

The challenge to Australian sovereignty which underlies the relief sought before this court is a matter that is not cognisable in this or any other Australian court; for it is a basic doctrine of Australian law that Britain’s acquisition of sovereignty over the Australian continent was an act of State that is not justiciable before municipal courts: Mabo v The State of Queensland (No 2).

Clearly, a stay premised on a challenge to the Australian Crown’s acquisition of sovereignty cannot be sustained as a matter of law. Perhaps mindful of that difficulty, the applicant sought to advance a number of other contentions, all of which, however, collide with the settled principle that Australian sovereignty is not justiciable in any Australian court and are therefore unsound.

Justice Philippides dismissed Ngurampaa’s application.

Don’t be surprised Geia appeals whatever decision is made by the court on February 16. It is a far bet that regardless of the outcome it will be appealed to a higher court. If so, he’d be well advised, to borrow the words of Tex Deadly, “to get a lawyer son, and a real good one.”

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* The Cruel Sea, Better Get A Lawyer from the album Three Legged Dog, 1994

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