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Choice of Australian Aboriginal Customary Law

The relationship between the conflict of laws and constitutional law is close in many legal systems, and Australia is no exception. Leading Australian conflict of laws cases, including, for example, John Pfeiffer Pty Ltd v Rogerson (2000) 203 CLR 503, which adopted a lex loci delicti rule for intra-Australian torts, are premised on public law concepts essential to our federation. These cases illustrate how the conflict of laws bleeds into other disciplines.

Love v Commonwealth [2020] HCA 3 is a recent decision of the High Court of Australia that highlights the breadth and blurry edges of our discipline. Most legal commentators would characterise the case in terms of constitutional law and migration law. The Court considered a strange question: can an Aboriginal Australian be an ‘alien’?

Policy background

Australia’s disposition to migration is controversial to say the least. Our government’s migration policies, which often enjoy bi-partisan support, are a source of embarrassment for many Australians. One controversial migration policy involves New Zealanders. Australia and New Zealand enjoy a very close relationship on several fronts, including with respect to private international law: see the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010 (Cth). New Zealanders often enjoy privileges in Australia that are not afforded to persons of other nationality.