Jobs Events Advertise Newsletter

Native title fishers launch class action against state

Rudi Maxwell -

When Yuin Elder Kevin Mason, from the NSW South Coast, was jailed after being prosecuted by NSW Fisheries, he lost his eligibility for social housing, so he and his family became homeless.

Mr Mason is one of the lead applicants in a class action filed by litigators JGA Saddler against the state of NSW on behalf of NSW South Coast Native Title claim holders who have been prosecuted for exercising their cultural fishing practices.

Wally Stewart, from the NSW Aboriginal Fishing Rights group, told AAP prosecuting Aboriginal people for catching seafood in their traditional waters had destroyed lives.

"The criminal records that some people have got for cultural fishing, the loss of culture, we can't pass on what we were taught about gathering resources to look after our communities," he said.

"The list goes on, damage that is done by sending people to jail and people coming out of jail with mental health issues and their families.

"It doesn't just affect the person that they prosecute, it ripples right through our whole community."

The claim, filed in the Federal Court on Monday, has been brought on behalf of those affected either directly, or indirectly, by prosecutions between 1994 and June 27, 2023.

The proceedings allege NSW breached the Racial Discrimination Act by prosecuting Aboriginal fishers who were participating in protected cultural fishing practices.

"(The prosecutions are) just wrong on all levels but it had to come to this, so we can get some justice," Mr Stewart said.

"The amount of damage that it's done to our people, you can't compensate that.

"When we're too scared to take our kids out and teach them about our culture - that's where it's lost, we might never get that back but we're not going to give up, that's the reason why we're in this situation."

Lawyer Tristan Gaven, who is running the case, said the prosecutions had impacted the entire South Coast Aboriginal community.

"The ongoing prosecution of Indigenous fishers on the South Coast exercising their cultural fishing rights has not only caused considerable personal distress, humiliation and intimidation to those people fined and jailed, but also their families and the broader community," he said.

"It's really the first step in looking to shift the power balance ... up until now it's been the state prosecuting people for exercising their cultural fishing rights and now this is an opportunity to say that these rights are protected.

"And, in fact, the prosecution of people exercising those rights is a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act."

South Coast Aboriginal people are sea people, Mr Stewart said, whose diet traditionally comes from the ocean.

"For a government department to come along and turn around and say that 'they're our resources', and then start prosecuting our people, that's a bloody insult," he said.

"They've tried to separate our culture by putting regulations on us .. that's taking our way of life away."

The action is being funded by CASL, an Australian litigation finance business.

Rudi Maxwell - AAP


New Caledonia starting to calm after nights of strife
French police reinforcements have begun arriving in New Caledonia in a massive...
Supreme Court sets date for strip search class action against NSW police
The New South Wales Supreme Court has set a date for the strip search class acti...
Dechlan Brennan 18 May 2024
Māori masters graduate finds home in urban planning
Arizona Haddon, a recent Masters graduate in Urban Planning from the University...
Joseph Guenzler 17 May 2024

   Rudi Maxwell   

Souths hope to turn season around in Wighton's 250th
South Sydney claim to be unfussed by the ongoing Wayne Bennett transfer saga as...
Jacob Shteyman 18 May 2024
Hawks ready to take on Power test: ex-Port man Amon
Facing former club Port Adelaide isn't as big a deal for Karl Amon this year. T...
Anna Harrington 18 May 2024
New Caledonia starting to calm after nights of strife
French police reinforcements have begun arriving in New Caledonia in a massive...
Video emerges of the moment William Crowther statue is toppled
Video has emerged of Hobart’s William Crowther statue being cut down from its fo...
Callan Morse 17 May 2024