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Traditional ownership heading for vote


Cite as: April 2011 85(4) LIJ, p.12

Native title claims on reserved Crown land in Victoria will soon need final Parliamentary approval before being ratified.

Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark said the government planned to amend the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 to bring this change into effect in coming months.

The Act, passed in early September last year, currently allows for native title claims to be settled out of court between traditional owners and the state government executive without a parliamentary vote.

Under the proposed amendments, traditional owners will receive benefits such as conferring title and joint management rights on Crown land in return for the withdrawal of native title claims.

There are over 12,000 Crown Land reserves across Victoria.

Native Title Services Victoria (NTSV), a Commonwealth-funded body that supports Victorian native title claimant groups, believes the proposal “created a new uncertainty”. However, NTSV CEO Chris Marshall said the Indigenous community would accept it if there were no further substantive changes to the Act.

The only recognition and settlement agreement signed under the current legislation occurred last October and acknowledged the Gunaikurnai people as traditional owners of over 22,000 square kilometres of Gippsland. They were given joint management right of sites in the Tarra Bulga National Park.

A claim currently posed for resolution covers an area between Bendigo and Daylesford.

Mr Marshall said the Gunaikurnai agreement would not have been achieved without the existing legislation.

“We will be happy if this is the only change made, but there has to be risks down the track and we would prefer they did not do it. We are in wait and see mode,” he said.

“It looks like a benign change, but decisions would rest with a vote and not an executive decision. This may bring interest groups out of the woodwork who may rattle the cage of the government.”

Mr Marshall said the Indigenous community would work to shore up other important provisions in the Act while the amending Bill was being floated.

Mr Clark told the LIJ he believed major changes to land title should not be made until ratified by Parliament and that the legislation in its current form did not provide for adequate public consultation.

“All Victorians are entitled to have a say about any agreements that would alter rights of access to or use of publicly reserved land. This will ensure the rights of existing land users, lease and license holders, will be properly examined and subject to public scrutiny and debate,” he said.

LIV Indigenous Issues and Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee Chair Brendan Loizou said important native title decisions should be made by a high-level independent body.


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