Mixed reactions to Native Title revamp

Posted: Sunday, June 24, 2012 - 4:34am

Attorney General Nicola Roxon used the 20th anniversary of the Mabo decision to announce a review of the Native Title Act passed under the Keating government in 1993, a year after the Mabo decision was handed down.

According to Ms Roxon money has been set aside in this year’s budget to help speed up the determination process.

Under the proposed reforms, the government will look at four areas:

  • Legislate a criteria for a “good faith negotiation” on native title claims so that parties can no longer “sit back and wait for the clock to tick down until an arbitrated outcome is available to them”
  • Make land use agreements more flexible so that a “wider range of topics will be able to be negotiated on between indigenous groups and land rights holders”
  • Work with the stakeholders so that historical extinguishment of native title in parks and reserves is not a barrier to reaching agreements
  • Clarify the tax treatment of payments from native title agreements so that income tax and capital gains tax will not apply.

Ms Roxon has been firm in her view that “incremental” changes are more likely to deliver wide spread benefits than a radical change will.

Ms Roxon also announced a separate inquiry to see whether groups, who have their native title claims confirmed, actually have the tools to gain the most benefit from their claim.

Response to the announcement has been mixed.

Speaking on ABC radio, Wilcannia Local Aboriginal Land council CEO Jack Beetson said he feels that the proposed changes won’t do enough to speed up the claims process. Jack said “Oh I think they will be encouraged to make them (native title claims) but I don’t think they are going to be dealt with any more expediently as a consequence of the changes than they have already been”.

He said the changes will not do enough to have an impact on people’s lives. “They’re frustrated by the length of time, they are frustrated that after 20 years since the Mabo decision, there’s nothing really happened to make a difference to their lives as a consequence to that native title decision or as a consequence of the subsequent legislation.”

Alan Pederson, from Karma Waters Station on the Cape York Peninsula, who was one of the first to settle on a non-claimant application said that his case took 11 years, and was settled out of court. Mr. Pederson said he hopes that there is more clarity following this review so that negotiations can be held in good faith.

Native title has been recognised in 141 cases and some 620 indigenous land use agreements have been reached between indigenous people and pastoralist and miners. There are still 475 claims yet to be settled.

This includes the Barkindji claim.