Councils vote against review of native title

A motion to confirm that mainstream laws apply to native title land, and to strengthen the voice of local government in opposing claims, has been voted down at the Australian Local Government Association’s NGA.

Jos Mitchell

The motion, debated at the National General Assembly in Canberra last Thursday, also called for a return of financial assistance to oppose native title claims.

“The Native Title Act should be reviewed and amended to make certain mainstream Australian law applies over native title land, as it does over non native-title land,” the motion moved by Queensland’s Redland City Council said.

Redland said amending the act ‘to make certain the upholding of mainstream Australian laws’ would prevent claims ending up in court, as was recently the case in a land clearing dispute between the council and a native title holder.

The motion also condemned the federal government’s move to abolish the the Native Title Respondent Funding scheme, meaning claimants could still get funding but not respondents.

Redland said this shifted the financial burden onto rate payers and didn’t support equitable and impartial consideration of native title responses.’

Redland Mayor Jos Mitchell said the motion aimed to create a fairer and more easily understood native title framework that would lead to improved results and reduced costs.

“Current ambiguities in the legislation allow for unneccessary conflict between parties driving them towards legal action,” she told delegates.

“Removal of the Native Title Respondent Funding scheme means that many local governments are facing sizable cost burdens they can’t afford.”

She was supported by Kempsey shire Mayor Leo Hauville, who said Kempsey currently had 480 undetermined native title land claims and the legislation needed to be reviewed to ensure land claims were dealt with in a timely fashion.

‘A dangerous motion’

However Cockburn Shire deputy Mayor Chontelle Stone opposed the motion saying reconcilliation had received a blow from the Voice referendum, resulting in deep hurt and disappointment among Indigenous Australians.

Jane Lomax-Smith

“I feel personally that this motion goes against the principles of reconciliation,” she told the assembly. “Asking for funding to fight against native title … means you are not actually committed to walking together.”

Another speaker against the motion, Adelaide Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith, said a successful land claim title over most of metropolitan Adelaide by the Kaurna people in 2018 had shown how councils could work with native title claimants for the common good.

“It’s operating really effectively and as a council we’re finding it incredible useful to have a successful native title claim because we now have a much more respectful and formal relationship with the Kaurna people,” she said.

Opening the act for review in the current climate would be a step backwards and local government should instead be working to support claims, she said.

“This is a very dangerous motion which could send a message that we are not neccessarily in support of Aboriginal land claims,” Cr Lomax-Smith said.

The motion was declared lost on a voice vote.

An amendment to call for a review the act to respect the views and rights of indigenous people was also voted down.

Court finds against native title holder

In February this year Magistrate Ross Mack ruled in the Brisbane Magistrates Court in favour of Redland City Council in finding Darren Burns guilty of illegally clearing land on North Stradbroke Island in 2020.

The magistrate found that state government planning laws were applicable to the land and that Mr Burns’ clearing of native vegetation contravened state planning laws.

The Court did not accept the defence that being a native title holder, Mr Burns was exempt from state government planning laws or Council’s planning scheme.

Land clearing at North Stradbroke Island (image: Redland City Council)

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One thought on “Councils vote against review of native title

  1. The motion by Redland Council is not necessary. Native title rights and interests, where they exist or may exist, are always subject to the laws of the Commonwealth and the State, and local government laws and regulations. There are some exceptions, but they are generally limited to the exercise of certain native title rights and interests.
    As the latter part of the story above reports, land clearing on land subject to native title rights and interests is still subject to the State’s laws regarding land clearing, irrespective of whether the person carrying it out claimed to hold native title rights and interests.

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