Bill aims to restore native title certainty

A BILL has been tabled in federal parliament that aims to streamline the native title claim process and remove uncertainty around the validity of some mining and exploration agreements.
Bill aims to restore native title certainty Bill aims to restore native title certainty Bill aims to restore native title certainty Bill aims to restore native title certainty Bill aims to restore native title certainty

Native title bill aims to restore certainty over section 31 agreements.

The Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 includes measures recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Council of Australian Governments.

It seeks to end the uncertainty created by the 2017 Full Federal Court "McGlade" judgement that cast doubts over the validity of hundreds of what are known as "section 31" agreements, which are negotiated between claimant groups and industry to aid land access.

The bill also aims to create more flexibility for claimant groups.

It has been welcomed by mining industry groups.

The "McGlade" decision found section 31 agreements were only valid if they were signed by all representatives of a claimant group, rather than by a majority - even if the only reason for not obtaining every signature was because a single representative had died.

The bill aims to validate all affected agreements and ensure a majority of representatives can negotiate on behalf of a claimant group in the future.

It was also informed by consultation with native title claimants.

According to Attorney General Christian Porter, the bill will provide claimant groups with:

  • Improved pathways for dispute resolution after a determination of native title;
  • Increased transparency and accountability for prescribed bodies corporate, the corporations set up to manage native title; and
  • Greater flexibility for bodies corporate 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 stakeholders," Porter said.

"The bill also delivers 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."

Minerals Council of Australia CEO Tania Constable said the bill would provide much needed certainty to the minerals industry and support an effective and practical native title system.

"Land use agreements between the minerals sector and traditional owners have enabled cooperative and mutually-beneficial partnerships over the past two decades," she said.

"Other key measures in the bill are drawn from recommendations from successive reviews of the native title system by both the Australian Law Reform Commission and COAG.

"Thousands of agreements have been formed between the minerals industry and traditional owners.

"Given the extensive consultation to inform the bill, the MCA expects the reform package to receive strong bipartisan support in the Australian parliament."

Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia chief executive Paul Everingham said the changes would bring much needed certainty and efficiency to all Native Title Act users.

"The Native Title Act is a significant piece of legislation for the resources sector in WA, with many indigenous land use agreements and section 31 agreements across the state associated with resources sector projects," he said.

"The changes contained in the legislation are all common sense administrative reforms that resolve several practical issues with implementation of native title in Australia."