23/05/2006 - 22:00

Funding shortfall

23/05/2006 - 22:00

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The federal government provides just more than $50 million each year to native title representative bodies (NTRB), yet both business and Aboriginal groups agree this is grossly inadequate.

Funding shortfall

The federal government provides just more than $50 million each year to native title representative bodies (NTRB), yet both business and Aboriginal groups agree this is grossly inadequate.

The Minerals Council of Australia says these bodies are “chronically under resourced”, even though they are considered “the fundamental component of the native title system”.

“Despite the best endeavours of individuals working within NTRBs, the lack of resourcing means that they are incapable of effectively carrying out their broad responsibilities,” the council said in a government submission.

The NTRBs’ core function is to represent native title claimants in their negotiations.

Arguably an even bigger funding problem arises after native title is granted because successful claimants are required to establish a ‘prescribed body corporate’ but the federal government does not provide any funding.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA says the lack of funding for PBCs “leaves them in a dysfunctional state”.

The lack of government funding means that mining companies must step into the breach.

“In order to meet the require-ments of the native title act, minerals companies are obliged to meet the resourcing gap,” the Minerals Council said.

A recent report by the federal parliamentary joint committee on native title acknowledged the funding problem and called for a review.

A dissenting report by opposition members went further, calling for an immediate increase in funding.

In WA, Deputy Premier Eric Ripper has been calling for several years for increased federal govern-ment funding to boost NTRBs.

“Properly resourced and well-functioning land councils are critical to settling the 600 outstanding native title applications in Australia and in responding to mining and exploration applications in a timely way,” Mr Ripper said.

The state government has taken its own, small steps to try and address the problem.

In particular, it employed 12 people specifically to work with the NTRBs the help them manage the large number of mining, explor-ation and land title applications.

For its part, the federal govern-ment is wary of calls for increased funding, claiming there is substantial mismanagement of resources.

It has responded by announcing plans to introduce multi-year funding to help the NTRBs with their strategic planning.

Under the new policy, it could also withdraw recognition from poorly-performing organisations.

It also wants to broaden the range of organisations that can undertake activities on behalf of claimants.

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies wants extras funding for claimants, if it is tied to performance and accountability.

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