Saturday, 19 September 2015


BLACK   SOCIAL   HISTORY                                                                                                                  
Geoff Clark (politician)

Geoff Clark (born August 1952)[1] is an Australian Aboriginal politician and activist. Clark led the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) until it was effectively disbanded in 2004.


Clark was raised by his grandmother, Alice,[1] in an Aboriginal community in western Victoria. He was a keen boxer, boxing in Jimmy Sharman's tent when it came toWarrnambool.[1] At age 20 Clark moved to Western Australia and until he was 26 he worked as a builder's labourer and as a gardener; he also played Australian rules football forWest Australian Football League (WAFL) clubs Claremont and Subiaco. Geoff also represented Norwood Football Club in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) for three games in 1978.[2]

Political career

In 1979 Clark became the administrator for the Framlingham Aboriginal Community Trust.[1] He co-founded the Aboriginal Provisional Government in 1983 and in the same year visited Manuel Noriega, the then dictator of Panama.[citation needed] Between 1983 and 1996, he was active locally and internationally in indigenous affairs.
In December 1996 Clark was elected to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) board[1] as the Native Title spokesman. In December 1999 he became the first chairperson of ATSIC to be elected to that position.[1] Clark served two terms in this position before the organisation was disbanded in 2004. Clark's tenure was increasingly overshadowed by allegations of misconduct and ongoing criminal proceedings against him.
In August 2003, Clark was suspended as ATSIC chairperson by the Indigenous Affairs Minister, Amanda Vanstone. The suspension was later overruled in court. It was alleged that he attempted to sell off government property under the control of ATSIC, for the benefit of ATSIC, which eventually led to the Australian National Audit Office identifying "anomalies" of $672,450 and declaring the organisation in breach of the Australian constitution. In 2004, the Howard Government abolished ATSIC.[1]

Court proceedings

In 2000 Clark was charged with the 1981 rape of his cousin, Joanne McGuinness, but a magistrate found there was insufficient evidence to bring the case to trial.[3]
In 2001, press reports in The Age claimed that Clark was responsible for four rapes that took place in the 1970s and 1980s.[1] McGuiness and Carol Stingel launched separate civil cases against Clark in 2002.[4] Both alleged that he raped four women including McGuiness and Stingel. In 2003 further criminal charges of rape were filed by the Victoria Police but the charges were dismissed due to discrepancies in the evidence.[citation needed]
In 2003 it emerged that ATSIC had agreed to allocate $45,000 to fund Clark's legal defence relating to a pub brawl where he was present.[1] Nineteen charges were initially filed, with all but 'riotous behavior' and 'obstructing police' eventually dropped. Clark was convicted on both in his first trial, with the riotous behavior charge later dismissed on appeal.[5][6]
In January 2007 a County Court of Victoria civil jury found that he had led two pack rapes in 1971.[1] The victim, Carol Anne Stingel, suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome, was awarded $20,000 in compensatory damages and around $71,000 to cover legal costs.[7] No exemplary damages were awarded, although this is not unusual in Australian civil law.[3] In response to the question of whether it was "the lowest point in his life",[8] Clark sarcastically described the ruling as "the lowest point in the history of this country".
In February 2007 Clark appealed the findings of the jury in the Stingel matter. His notice of appeal alleged the verdict to be 'perverse', that the trial judge misdirected the jury regarding failures to call corroborative witnesses on the part of the complainant, that the trial judge erred in ruling against the admission of certain evidence, and that the fairness of the trial process had been compromised by pre-trial publicity.[9] In December 2007 he lost his appeal against the damages awarded against him.[10] Clark never paid the $20,000 compensation to Stingel and owes more than $300,000 to her lawyers.[11] Although Clark declared bankruptcy in 2009 which was extended by five years in June 2012, he made an unsuccessful $1.25 million bid in June 2013 for a hotel in Warrnambool.[11]
In September 2011, Clark was one of the successful complainants in a racial discrimination case involving Herald Sun journalist Andrew Bolt, who in a 2009 article claimed that Clark had used his part Aboriginal ethnicity to gain social benefits. Clark said he took part in the action because of the general "tone" of Bolt's writing.[12]