THE FEDERAL government’s proposal to reform the native title claim resolution process last week aimed to improve the system.
Meanwhile, Labor expressed concern over the ability of the government to increase its control of native title representative bodies (NTRBs), including land councils.
Graeme Neate, president of the National Native Title Tribunal, said Attorney-General Philip Ruddock’s proposed reforms, following the release of the Native Title Claims Resolution Review Report, might be a step in the right direction.
“The changes to the claims resolution process have the potential for positive outcomes to be reached by agreement more quickly and at less cost,” he said.
The reforms aim to expand the Tribunal’s powers and functions, which will avoid simultaneous mediation of claims by it and the Federal Court.
“The Government also wants to reduce the number of claims in the system which have little prospect of success, so claims that cannot be resolved are identified earlier for resolution by the court,” Neate said.
“The reforms recognise a need for improved communication and co-ordination between the court and the Tribunal.”
According to Neate, the Native Title Act had already garnered good results for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by allowing some groups to have their native title recognised, and others to negotiate agreements that brought social and economic benefits.
Yet Labor senator Chris Evans said he was concerned at reports that “the government is considering using the review recommendations to justify resurrecting the so-called Wik 10 point plan”.
“In light of the recent changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 that were rammed through the Parliament without consultation or negotiation, Ruddock now needs to reaffirm the commitment he gave in September 2005 that this review process would not be used to wind back native title rights,” Evans said.