Australia’s High Court believes in magic

In 1983, the High Court of Australia recognised Scientology as a religion. But what was significant about that judgement was that it merely accepted that Scientology fulfilled the requirements of being classified as ?religion?: ?Belief in a supernatural being, thing or principle; and acceptance and observance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief?. Although there was an economic flow-on from that judgement ? Scientology became eligible for the same charitable tax exemption as any other religion ? it is nevertheless significant that the court was silent on the truth of Scientology?s actual religious claims.

Many people found that ruling disturbing enough. Now, though, the court has gone much further: tacitly endorsing the religious claims of one particular group as literally true. These claims, like all religious claims, are essentially magical. The Australian High Court has just endorsed belief in magic.


The High Court of Australia has upheld the award of $1.3 million to a group of Aboriginal traditional owners in the Northern Territory for cultural loss caused by their native title being extinguished, in a landmark decision delivered on Wednesday.

The ruling, centred on a 1.27 square kilometre patch of land in the remote Northern Territory town of Timber Creek, sets a significant precedent for how Aboriginal traditional owners are compensated for land that was taken from them and cannot be returned. End of quote.

This is a landmark decision, all right. And not in a good way. Quote:

Their native title was extinguished on the patch of land at the centre of the legal proceedings by various actions ? such as building public works ? taken by the NT government between 1980 and 1996. End of quote.

In the first place, as some have noted, the court is actually compensating people for improvements paid for out of the public purse. This begs the question: given all the palaver about ?closing the gap?, how is that supposed to happen if the taxpayer faces a double bill for trying to help? First the cost of actual infrastructure improvement, such as water, housing and electricity, without which no community can hope to advance, and then a whopping compo bill for even bothering to try.

But what is perhaps most disturbing is that the court has tacitly endorsed the magical beliefs of one particular group. Quote:

The compensation award was split into three parts: the economic value of the land, interest on that amount, and the sum that should be paid for spiritual losses.

The High Court said that?”The effects on the sense of connection are not to be understood as referable to individual blocks of land but understood by the ‘pervasiveness of Dreaming’ ? an act can have an adverse effect by physically damaging a sacred site, but it can also affect a person’s perception of and engagement with the Dreamings ? and as a person’s connection with country carries with it an obligation to care for it, there is a resulting sense of failed responsibility when it is damaged or affected in a way which cuts through Dreamings,” five of the seven judges wrote, endorsing Justice Mansfield’s findings. End of quote.

At a time when the left is almost solidly arrayed against the government?s consideration of affirming protections for religious belief, the same people who sneer about ?sky fairies? are hypocritically celebrating this decision. Once again, people who deride religion when it wears a cassock, fall on their knees in solemn devotion when religion comes dressed in a lap-lap and waving some smoking gum leaves.

If a group of hippies in Nimbin had their land compulsorily acquired to build a highway, and they sued for extra compensation on the basis of their sincere belief that their land was home to a magic rainbow unicorn, would anyone take them seriously? Of course not. Yet, harsh as it may sound, ?connection to the land? via ?Dreamings? is at root no different.

The High Court is asking us to believe in magic.