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Issue #1775      May 3, 2017

Anger at Turnbull’s title “settled” claim

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has angered many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by reportedly telling an Indian mining billionaire that the issue of native title in Australia would soon be “settled”.

Malcolm Turnbull meets with India’s Adani Group founder and chairman Gautam Adani.

On a visit to India last month Turnbull met with executives from mining company Adani, including company founder Gautam Adani, which is hoping to build the huge Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland.

The project has long caused conflict between traditional owners, with some in favour of signing an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with Adani and some vehemently opposed, including the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) Traditional Owners Council.

The proposed Adani ILUA is one of dozens of agreements affected by the McGlade decision in the Federal Court earlier this year, which ruled that all native title claimants must sign off on an ILUA, rather than a simple majority, which had been the case since an earlier court decision in 2010.

The government moved swiftly after the McGlade decision to introduce changes to the Native Title Act that would have drastically watered down any native title claimants’ ability to object to an ILUA and had been due to debate the changes in the most recent Senate sitting, following a Senate inquiry into the changes.

However, after senators spent hours speaking on an unsuccessful bid to water down the Racial Discrimination Act, Attorney-General George Brandis added extra changes to the proposed Native Title Act amendments and Labor withdrew its support.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Indigenous people needed to be properly consulted before any changes were made to the Act. “We don’t think that native title should be a plaything to resolve the Adani investment,” he said.

“What matters is sorting out native title and the court cases which have happened there. I don’t think the Prime Minister should be automatically linking Adani to that.

“I think there’d be a lot of Aboriginal people saying, ‘Hey, before you start making promises on our behalf, please consult us first.’”

Senator Brandis backed Turnbull’s approach, telling The Australian newspaper: “The government has been working to reverse the effect of the Federal Court decision in order to restore certainty for stakeholders, in particular to the Adani group.”

The Attorney-General’s department did not respond to questions from the Koori Mail.

Assistant Shadow Indigenous Affairs Minister Pat Dodson told the Koori Mail that the government was ignoring Indigenous voices on native title.

“Not surprised”

“I am not surprised that Mr Turnbull is consulting with mining billionaires from overseas but not with Indigenous Australians. It sends a clear message about his priorities,” he said. Senator Dodson said the Senate inquiry into the proposed amendments had been rushed.

“It plainly was not sufficient time to hear the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” he said. “This has been made clear by Labor from day one, when the Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives.

“Labor pushed to hold a Senate committee inquiry. The government allowed just one day for the Senate committee to hear from witnesses, including native title representative bodies, who clearly have significant interests in this issue. Even then, the government did not listen to the outcome.

“Labor would like to see the Native Title Act return to its fundamental purpose of recognising and protecting native title as an area of law that has deep and lasting significance, not just for Indigenous Australians, but for the nation as a whole. It needs to be recognised as a community-held form of title, not just there because of the largesse of the Parliament.”

Senator Dodson said there had been important issues raised regarding changes to the Act in submissions to the Senate inquiry by Aboriginal land councils that deserved more consideration.

“There are many improvements that could be made to the ILUA process and the current issues show this to be the case,” he said.

“There are also improvements that could be made to the workings of the Native Title Act, as recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission several years ago. Those recommendations have been gathering dust on the Attorney-General’s famous bookshelves. This is precisely why more consultation is needed on this bill – to identify the real priorities for reform in the area of native title.

“This whole issue of native title and responding to the McGlade decision could have already been resolved if not for the incompetence of Senator Brandis. Had the government consulted with Indigenous people at the earliest possible stage, these issues could well have been properly addressed.”

Kimberley Land Council (KLC) chief executive Nolan Hunter called on the Attorney-General to support a forum for native title representative bodies and other key stakeholders to properly discuss all of the government’s proposed changes to the Act.

“We are very mindful that people need certainty about their native title agreements and changes to the Native Title Act are required for this to occur,” he said. “What we do not accept is government attempting to make last-minute changes without consultation with Indigenous people about the very legislation that impacts them the most.

“This process has been rushed from the start and only serves to shine a light on the many other failings of the Act. The views of Indigenous people must be given the respect they deserve.”

W&J Traditional Owners Council spokesperson Adrian Burragubba said they would continue to oppose the mine. “The Prime Minister is another in a long line of political leaders, federal and state, who are willing to sacrifice Aboriginal peoples’ rights if a profit or a deal is attractive enough,” he said.

“It is extraordinary to have the Prime Minister travelling to India to tell a businessman that he will change the Native Title Act in Australia and undermine our rights so that his destructive project can proceed.”

Koori Mail

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