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Lawyers welcome native title reform

Lawyers welcome native title reform

Twenty years after Mabo, the government has announced reforms to the Native Title Act, and lawyers nationally have welcomed the changes.

Attorney General Nicola Roxon announced the Government will “improve the flexibility and scope of Indigenous Land Use Agreements, create clear requirements for good faith in negotiations and allow parties to form agreements about historical extinguishment of native title in parks and reserves”.

“Importantly, we will clarify that income tax and capital gains tax will not apply to payments from a native title agreement,” she said.

“I strongly believe that these reforms on top of the Native Title Tribunal reforms announced in the budget will improve the quality of negotiations, encourage positive relationships through flexible agreement-making and speed up the determination process. They will also help Indigenous people to unlock the economic benefits of their native title,” Roxon said.

The Law Council of Australia welcomed the announcement of significant reforms to improve the native title system in Australia.

Law Council of Australia President, Catherine Gale, said the proposal to introduce a requirement to negotiate in good faith and to exempt native title payments from income and capital gains tax are both positive steps forward in the reform process.

“The native title system is in need of reform, to expedite recognition and delivery of benefits to native title holders and claimants,” Gale said.

“We commend the Commonwealth Government for taking steps to improve the machinery of the system.

“The proposal to exempt native title payments from income and capital gains tax—a confused area for some time—is particularly welcome and consistent with the underlying objects of the native title scheme.

“Tax exemption is a significant recognition by the government of the importance of maximising the benefits to native title claimants from native title payments.”

Gale said the Law Council also supports the notion that parties should be allowed to voluntarily set aside prior extinguishment.

“While at present it is proposed that this reform will apply only to reserves and national parks, it is a concept which could be applied more broadly and the Law Council would be pleased to assist in further developing the proposal,” Gale said.

The Law Council also welcomed the proposal to introduce a requirement to negotiate in good faith, but cautioned that parties are likely to face additional costs satisfying such a requirement.

“To ensure such negotiations have the greatest chance of success, the government should make funding available to assist native title claimants and other disadvantaged parties to meet their obligations to negotiate in good faith.”

While the proposals were largely positive developments in for the future of native title claims, Gale said issues still needed to be addressed and called on the Government to explore further reforms.

The Law Council has for some time been calling on the Commonwealth Government to introduce a ‘presumption of continuity’.



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