THE sixth and final Social Justice and Native Title Reports, tabled in federal Parliament this month, were launched in Sydney on Friday.
The Native Title Report 2009, which reviews developments in native title law and policy from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009 and considers principles and standards that should underpin cultural change in the native title system.
“Throughout my term as Social Justice Commissioner, I have called for reforms to native title law and policy that promote the achievement of the social, economic and cultural development aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said.
Calma said that during his term as Social Justice Commissioner, he has consistently called on the government to reform the native title system to ensure that it is just and equitable.
He gave a shallow nod to the work of Philip Ruddock MP, the previous federal Attorney-General, who he said responded to this call by introducing initial reforms to the native title system.
“While much of this change has been described as only ‘tinkering at the edges’, they did start the ball rolling.
“Fortunately, the current Labor Government has continued to pursue reforms to the native title system to improve its operation and effectiveness,” he said.
This year, Attorney-General Robert McClelland introduced a range of amendments to the Native Title Act, both positive and controversial. He also also worked with State and Territory Governments through the COAG process to weigh up a more flexible approach to native title.
As Commissioner Calma noted in his speech on Friday, McClelland also encouraged broader negotiated settlement arrangements. But, he urged that more be done.
“Significant improvements must be made to the native title system if we are to close the disadvantage gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and to achieve reconciliation.
“During this year, we have witnessed reforms that could prove to be the first steps in transforming the native title system, such as the impressive settlement framework announced by the Victorian Attorney General and the process of native title reform commenced by the Australian Government,” he said.
“In this, my final native title report, I outline principles and standards that should guide a new approach to native title. I also explain how the native title system ought to be viewed in the context of broader reforms to promote and protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
The Report makes 27 recommendations for reform of the native title system concerning several key areas, including shifting the burden of proof, more flexible approaches to connection evidence and promoting broader and more flexible native title settlement packages. The Report also reviews land tenure reform.
“As I come to the end of my term, I urge governments to listen to us and work with us. Respect our voices, our rights, our lands, our resources and our waters,” Commissioner Calma said.
“Only then will this country truly be able to retreat from injustice.”
Calma announced that the marked shift in Indigenous policy continues to gain momentum and signals a more promising future for Indigenous Australians.
“It is easy to become despondent with the relentless grind of Indigenous affairs where one alarming set of statistics follows another,” Commissioner Calma said.
“But the positive signs over this last year in particular are tangible: we now have for the first time all Australian governments working towards targets to close the gap of Indigenous disadvantage.
Commissioner Calma said the Social Justice Report 2009 focused on: justice reinvestment to reduce Indigenous over-representation in the criminal justice system; protection of Indigenous languages; and sustaining Aboriginal homeland communities.
“Nationally, Indigenous adults are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous people and Indigenous juveniles are 28 times more likely to be placed in juvenile detention than their non-Indigenous counterparts,” Commissioner Calma said.
“I have been advocating for some time now for Australian governments to consider a tried and tested approach known as justice reinvestment, which diverts a portion of the funds planned to be spent on imprisonment to local communities where there is a high concentration of offenders.
“The money that would have been spent on imprisonment is reinvested in programs and services in communities where these issues are most acute, in order to address the underlying causes of crime in those communities.”