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Victoria debates Brumby's land title bill

Victoria debates Brumby's land title bill

Victorian Premier John Brumby has come under attack from the opposition for his move to "arrogantly ram" a Traditional Owner Settlement Bill through Parliament.

VICTORIAN Premier John Brumby has come under attack from the opposition for his move to “arrogantly ram” a Traditional Owner Settlement Bill through Parliament.

The state’s Shadow Attorney General claims Brumby pushed the bill “which will grant land title without public input or Parliamentary approval, despite the strong opposition of many traditional owner groups”, through Parliament.

“This Bill gives John Brumby sweeping powers to confer title to any reserved or unreserved public land in Victoria and grant joint management rights, whether or not there is or has ever been a native title claim,” Shadow Attorney-General Robert Clark said.

“In many cases, the Bill authorises the Brumby Government to recognise one indigenous group as the traditional owners of land and exclude other groups simply on the say-so of the Attorney-General.

“Once again, John Brumby is refusing to listen to the many Victorians concerned about his government’s arrogant approach,” Clark said.

But the Victorian Traditional Owner Land Justice Group has welcomes the introduction of the Bill, saying it is the result of a collaborative undertaking between the State Government and the Land Justice Group to find an alternative way to resolve native title claims in Victoria.

Land Justice Group co-chair, Graham Atkinson, said the bill will help deal with “unfinished business”.

“It will go some way to redressing past injustice. It is an honourable compromise in the interests of all traditional land owner groups in Victoria,” he said.

“The Land Justice Group commends the State government on this initiative, which has come about because of the commitment by both parties to work together, to achieve greater understanding of each other’s positions, and make considerable compromises to reach agreement about how traditional owner settlements will operate,” Atkinson said.

“In practical terms, it will facilitate improvements for land management and the environment in Victoria through joint management arrangements. It will also help educate the wider Victorian public about Indigenous cultural heritage.

“There will also be an economic development benefit to Indigenous communities which will flow through to regional communities, with the development of jobs and business opportunities,” Atkinson said.

But Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Jeanette Powell, said indigenous groups from across Victoria have told the Coalition they are very concerned the law will be used to exclude them even further from their traditional lands, and asked for it not to be passed without further consultation.

“Many indigenous communities have already had bad experiences of the government picking winners under national park and aboriginal heritage laws,” Powell said.

According to the Brumby Government, there are more than 12,000 Crown Land reserves across Victoria, including showgrounds, foreshores, racecourses, public gardens and sports grounds, and the Bill will also apply to national parks, reserved forests and wildlife and nature reserves. Even Parliament House and the MCG are on reserved Crown Land.

“If the Brumby Government wants the power to give title to the MCG or Parliament House or any other reserved public land to a traditional owner group, even in a purely symbolic way, all Victorians should be able to have a say in that decision,” Clark said.

“The government rejected the Coalition’s amendments to provide for Parliamentary ratification whenever title is to be conferred or a land use activity agreement is to be entered into over reserved Crown Land.

“The Coalition would have supported fair and effective legislation to resolve native title claims and provide greater opportunities for traditional owners to be involved in the management of traditional lands.

“However, by rushing this legislation through Parliament unamended, Labor risks perpetuating rather than resolving disputes, as well as denying Victorians a proper say over the future of public land,” Clark said.

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