The Commonwealth Government has introduced the Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 to Parliament as a means to streamline the claims process, according to Attorney-General Christian Porter.
Currently before the House of Representatives, the Bill includes recommendations from Native Title claimant groups, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC).
A major priority of the new Bill is to set straight the uncertainty around the 2017 Federal Court McGlade decision, which cast doubt over a vast number of Section 31 agreements.
Section 31 agreements are negotiated between industry and claimant groups to enable land access to industry.
The McGlade decision found that these agreements were only valid if signed by every single representative in a claimant group – not just a majority – even if every signature couldn’t be obtained due to a representative being deceased.
The Amendment Bill aims to establish a register for Section 31 agreements, validate all agreements affected by the McGlade decision and ensure future negotiations can be carried out on behalf of a claimant group majority.
The Western Australian McGowan Government has welcomed the amendments, with WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ben Wyatt throwing his support behind the Bill.
“Native title is a constantly evolving area of Australian law as legal matters are tested in the courts, the Federal Native Title Act consequently needs amendment from time to time,” Minister Wyatt said.
“The proposed amendments demonstrate the growing collaborative and bipartisan approach to Native Title reform in Australia and deserves the support of the Australian Parliament.”
Native Title claimant groups have also particularly advocated for a more efficient and flexible system.
A statement from the Attorney-General’s Office said the Bill will give claimants improved dispute resolution pathways, increased accountability and transparency for Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate (RNTBCs) and greater flexibility for RNTBCs to set their own internal processes.
“These amendments demonstrate the Australian Government’s commitment to delivering practical solutions that will ensure the Native Title system continues to meet the evolving needs of all stakeholders,” Attorney-General Porter said.
“The Bill also delivers the autonomy that claimant groups were seeking to be able to make independent decisions about access to their land, while also improving internal dispute resolution processes.”
Should the Bill pass Parliament, it will be the most significant changes to the Native Title Act 1993 since the Howard Government’s amendments after the Wik decision in 1998.