The National Native Title Council (NNTC) has welcomed the proposal for an Inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) into the native title system, but calls on the major parties to work collaboratively on any recommendations put forward through the Inquiry.
“It is time for the major parties to put aside their partisan approach to native title and secure some real change that will not only achieve the desire for the timely and effective resolution of claims, but will also provide some relief for Traditional Owners and their communities,” said Brian Wyatt, Chief Executive of the NNTC.
The first phase of the Inquiry is to provide comment on the Terms of Reference, however the NNTC believes they do not go far enough.
“The Terms of Reference do not mention anything about more fundamental amendments to the Native Title Act such as reversing the burden of proof about connection to country from native title claimants to the State. The legal responsibility for establishing connection to country should fall on governments not on the Traditional Owners,” said Mr Wyatt.
“For a number of years the NNTC has been calling on the government to shift the burden of proof to alleviate the financial and psychological hardship for Traditional Owners. The current system places an unjust burden on native title applicants in proving their continued connection to land as it is an expensive and drawn out exercise.
“Reversing the onus of proof has received significant support from such high profile people as the Chief Justice RS French and former Prime Minister Paul Keating,” said Mr Wyatt.
The NNTC would urge the Government to consider the concerns contained in the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights released on 15 May 2013. The Joint Committee noted that shifting the burden of proof for native title claimants may be seen as enhancing the rights of Indigenous peoples to self-determination and will be seeking clarification on why provisions addressing the burden of proof in relation to native title applications have been omitted from the current Native Title Amendment Bill.
“The Joint Committee has membership from both major parties, illustrating broad support across the Parliament for action, and reversing the onus of proof would make a real difference,” said Mr Wyatt. “It is time for bipartisan support to introduce legislative provisions that will improve the native title system for all concerned.”
The NNTC is the peak body for native title representative bodies and service providers.