Strengthen our Land Rights and Native Title laws

Strengthen Our Land Rights and Native Title Laws

March 21, 2011

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) has called on the Gillard Government and the Federal Opposition to support the strengthening of all land rights and native title laws across Australia on the back of debate on the Queensland Government's Wild Rivers legislation.

They should concentrate on the crucial resource rights and free, prior and informed consent issues which have been raised by the debate in Federal Parliament on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's private members bill to overturn the Queensland legislation.

"The Federal Native Title regime, and state land rights laws, should all recognise the resource rights of Aboriginal land owners and the need for Government's and industry to gain free, prior and informed consent on proposed developments from Aboriginal owners," NSWALC Chairwoman Bev Manton said today.

"If this was the case, there would be no need for the Commonwealth Parliament to be considering overturning State laws as Mr. Abbott's Private Members Bill now seeks to do."

Ms. Manton says members of Cape York Land Council recently met with NSWALC's Governing Council to seek its support for the Abbott Bill ahead of the resumption of debate on the measure when Federal Parliament returns this week.

"NSWALC has closely examined the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 and the report of the Inquiry into it by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee following the introduction of the Bill into the Senate by the Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion," Ms. Manton added.

"It is obvious from the public and parliamentary debate the Wild Rivers issue and Abbott Bill excite great passion on both sides of the argument and great suspicion about the political motives of Mr. Abbott.

"Many Aboriginal people, particularly in Mr. Abbott's home state of New South Wales are entitled to be surprised and suspicious that the leader of the Liberal Party, which sought significant reductions in the rights of our people under the Native Title Act while in Government, is now proposing legislation which expands the resource rights of native title holders.

"They are also entitled to be surprised and suspicious that he, and the Federal Opposition, publicly invoke the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in seeking support for the passage of the Bill, particularly the rights to free, prior and informed consent and our right to own, use, develop and control our lands.

"However, NSWALC welcomes the Liberal Party's commitment to increasing the resource rights of Aboriginal people and its support for the principles enshrined in the UN Declaration.

"We are conscious of the Cape York Land Council's full support of the Abbott Bill and utter opposition to the Queensland Government's Wild River Act..

"Equally we are conscious that organisations, such as the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, are opposed to the Abbott Bill and fully support the Queensland state legislation.

"NSWALC welcomes the fact that both organisations have made it clear they respect the opinions of the other and seek only to speak for those living on their country.

"This is NSWALC's position. We do not seek to speak for the people of Cape York or those in the lower gulf region.

"However, we believe it is important that all parliamentarians take a close look at the principles underlying the debate the Abbott Bill has triggered in the Federal Parliament.

"From an Aboriginal perspective, the importance of the principles of resource rights and free, prior and informed consent contained in the Federal Opposition's Bill cannot be underestimated.

"Legislative provisions for free, prior and informed consent only now exist under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act.

"The Wild Rivers Bill only seeks to extend such provisions to Cape York.

"NSWALC believes the same provisions could be written into amendments to the Native Title Act, and relevant State land rights law, to confer such legal recognition and entitlements to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the nation.

"The Senate Committee majority report found that objections to the Queensland laws based on non-compliance with Article 19 of the UN Declaration (free, prior and informed consent) were not 'well founded' because the UN DRIP is not binding in Australian law.

"The Australian Government endorsed the UN Declaration back in April 2009.

"This raises an obvious question: Why would the Government endorse these principles unless it is prepared to implement them into our domestic legislation and administrative procedures?

"The Abbott Bill has triggered the need for the Federal and State Parliaments to address the need for all native title and land rights laws to be reviewed to ensure Aboriginal people control economic development on their land through resource rights and the need for the UN Declaration to be reflected in domestic laws.

"If you accept the Federal Opposition's sincerity in pursuing the principles enshrined in its Private Members Bill, and its support for the UN Declaration, then a bi-partisan climate has surely been created to now look at strengthening our rights across the nation.

"This is where debate on this Bill should now go and Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott are perfectly positioned to lead such a debate."