The NNTC makes a number of submissions to parliament to support the rights and interests of Traditional Owners. The main legislative Acts we seek to influence and improve on their behalf are the Native Title Act 1993 (NTA), the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (CATSI Act), and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act), along with various other state and federal legislation, including those that govern Indigenous cultural heritage.
Native Title Act 1993 (NTA)
The Native Title Act was passed by the Commonwealth Parliament in 1993 following intensive political negotiations that took place after the historic Mabo decision of the High Court. In Mabo the High Court held that Australian law recognises the continuing traditional legal rights and interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the lands and waters of Australia, and it referred to these as native title rights.
The objectives of the Native Title Act were to recognise and protect native title, and it achieved this in several ways including by:
- Establishing a native title claim process to formally recognise native title rights
- Establishing a process to enable native title holders to claim just terms compensation where their native title rights have been extinguished or affected
- Confirming the validity of government actions that had not taken native title rights into account
- Establishing ‘future act’ processes that would enable public land to be developed by the States and Territories after taking native title into account
Amendments to the NTA
The Native Title Act is complex legislation and it has been necessary to amend it on several occasions over the years. During this time the NNTC has worked with its member native title organisations to strengthen and improve the operation of the Native Title Act and has negotiated amendments with the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and other stakeholders.
Most recently, in October 2019 a revised Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill was introduced into the Commonwealth Parliament. This Bill was subsequently referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee to conduct an inquiry and undertake consultations about the changes proposed in the Bill.
The NNTC made a written submission to the Committee in which it supported the many positive amendments proposed by the Bill and reiterated its concerns about a small number of amendments that it does not consider appropriate. The Committee is currently considering the submissions that have been made and is expected to report the outcome of its inquiry to Parliament by 19 August 2020.
Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act (CATSI Act)
The CATSI Act was passed by the Commonwealth Parliament in 2006. It reflects many of the governance requirements for corporations set out in the Corporations Act, while also providing more flexibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations to develop governance structures and processes that are more appropriate for their particular circumstances.
The NNTC has worked with its members over several years to improve the CATSI Act, particularly as it relates to the unique role and functions of Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs). During this time the NNTC has had ongoing discussions with the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations about the operation of the Act and has made a number of submissions to Commonwealth Government inquiries and reviews into various aspects of the CATSI Act.
In December 2019 the Minister for Indigenous Australians announced the first comprehensive review of the CATSI Actsince the legislation came into operation. The review is being co-ordinated by the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA). It will review the Act more broadly than the reviews that have been undertaken in the past.
The current review will consider if the CATSI Act is fulfilling its purpose, including as a special measure under the Racial Discrimination Act. Also, as the number of PBCs with their statutory functions under the Native Title Act has increased significantly over the past 20 years the review will look at the arrangements for PBCs under the CATSI Act,and how these could be improved.
The NIAA is conducting the review in two phases. The first phase was an online public consultation survey conducted at the beginning of 2020 in which the NIAA sought feedback on the issues members of the public considered were important for the review to consider. The NIAA published its summary report of this survey in June 2020.
In the second phase of the review it is expected that NIAA will undertake consultations about amendments to the CATSI Act. The timetable for this second phase will be announced later in 2020.
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)
To view the NNTC’s past submissions to parliament, click here.