Native Title needs reforming or more Indigenous opportunities will be lost
Written on the 26 July 2017
Last week's judgement by the Federal Court granting the Yindjibarndi people exclusive native title rights over 2700 square kilometres of the Pilbara, including Andrew Forrest's Solomon Hub iron ore operation, highlights the challenges placed upon the activities of our northern primary industries by the existing Native Title regime.
The legal action had been running for 14 years. When Solomon Hub first got off the ground, Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group negotiated in good faith with those they understood to be the rightful traditional owners of the land. The court has now decided Yindjibarndi were that group, and they will be seeking compensation.
The landmark case and the precedents it sets could undermine investment in the communities that need it most.
This can lead to adversarial and opportunistic practices focused on short-term revenue-raising in the name of Native Title claimants and Native Title holders. On many occasions the lion's share of revenue goes not to the traditional owners but the Native Title Representative Bodies and other Native Title Business Brokers.
With a system creating a financial incentive for prolonged negotiations, increased delays and costs, we should not be timid in starting a debate that highlights the failings of the current regime.
Last month the Australian National Audit Office released a report into the "Effectiveness of the Governance of the Northern Land Council (NLC)". The report identified a "fundamental breakdown in the governance framework at the NLC, resulting in serious failings in almost all aspects of the council's administration", including weaknesses in the NLC's financial management, reporting, and internal management measures.
Positively, the report did identify a commitment on the part of the NLC to implementing "a wide-ranging reform agenda covering almost all aspects of the governance and administration of the council".
Until the role and responsibilities of Prescribed Corporate Bodies and Native Title Representative Bodies are thoroughly reviewed, and their levels of governance and transparency improved, the traditional owners they support will continue to be constrained by a Native Title process conceived in the spirit of helping the people it now punishes.
These lost opportunities are not limited to Indigenous Australians.
Source: Financial Review
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