Outcry over cultural fishing crackdown

3 November, 2022

3 November 2022

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) and NTSCORP Limited (NTSCORP) condemn the proposed changes to NSW fisheries management legislation and the continual criminalisation of Aboriginal Peoples’ fundamental human right to practise our culture and fish in accordance with our laws and customs.

The Fisheries Management Amendment (Enforcement Powers) Bill 2022 seeks to expand search powers and the definition of a premise to include a beach, trail, track, rock platform, riverbank and so on.

“We are shocked and disappointed by these draconian measures snuck in the back door for the last sitting of Parliament before next year’s State election,” NSWALC Chairperson Danny Chapman said.

“These proposed changes are a broad expansion of powers, particularly search powers, for fisheries officers, which will disproportionately impact Aboriginal Peoples. It is a clear example of over-reach of powers already being abused.

“We strongly disagree that these enforcement powers, as the Government argues, are proportionate, appropriate and fit-for-purpose,” Cr Chapman said.

The lack of consultation with key Aboriginal Peoples is of serious concern and demonstrates a failure of the NSW Government to uphold its commitments to the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

The NSWALC and NTSCORP are concerned this expansion and potential misuse of power for Fisheries Officers is over-reaching and is inconsistent with a number of state, national and international policies including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The recent Parliamentary Inquiry into the non-commencement of s.21AA of the FMA heard evidence that fisheries officers often target Aboriginal Peoples.

“These proposed amendments pre-empt the outcomes of this Parliamentary Inquiry into the non-commencement of section 21AA,’’ NTSCORP CEO Natalie Rotumah said.

“Aboriginal People in NSW have a strong connection to our land, seas and waterways, including through the traditional practice of cultural fishing. Section 21AA was introduced to recognise and protect Aboriginal cultural fishing and to ensure cultural practices were not criminalised. The fact that such a protective measure has still not commenced almost 13 years later is an indictment.

“Now rather than commence section 21AA, we have a Government trying to increase the powers of Fisheries Officers, which will result in even further prosecutions of Aboriginal Peoples undertaking cultural fishing. This legislation represents a widening of the Gap, rather than a Closing of the Gap” Natalie Rotumah said.

NSWALC and NTSCORP call for the NSW Parliament to not pass the Fisheries Management Amendment (Enforcement Powers) Bill 2022.

NTSCORP and NSWALC call on the Government to undertake appropriate and thorough engagement and consultation with key Aboriginal stakeholders on all legislation which affects Aboriginal Peoples’ rights before it is introduced to Parliament.

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We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners of the lands where we work as well as across the lands we travel through. We also acknowledge our Elders past, present and emerging.

Artwork Credit: Craig Cromelin, from a painting he did titled, "4 favourite fishing holes". It is a snippet of his growing years on the Lachlan River, featuring yabby, turtle, fish and family.