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In The News: Call for review of Native Title Act

NATIONAL Native Title Council chairman Brian Wyatt said last week’s Noongar Native Title decision demonstrated the deficiencies and unworkability of the Native Title Act. “It’s time that the government had a serious look at amending the Act to ensure the rights of indigenous people are upheld in these matters,” Mr Wyatt said in a statement. “The original spirit of the Act was the principle that the recognition of indigenous peoples’ ongoing connection with their land should be resolved by negotiation and mediation – not to be bogged down in the courts where no one ends up a winner. The full Federal Court last week set aside a 2006 Federal Court decision recognising native title over the Perth metropolitan area. The court found Justice Murray Wilcox, who made the original finding, had made serious errors. Deputy Premier Eric Ripper acknowledged that Noongar people would be very disappointed with the decision. “I take no personal satisfaction from this finding but I believe the state government had a responsibility to seek legal clarity in native title law for the benefit of the whole community,” Mr Ripper said. “With this decision, we now have a clear and consistent understanding of the law, one that will give both the government and Noongar people a solid platform for negotiations.” Meanwhile, the National Native Title Council has welcomed the recent announcement by the federal attorney-general to adopt new attitudes and new ways of thinking about native title. ”The Noongar decision really shows that we need to rethink the current process and come up with better ways of doing business,” Mr Wyatt said. “The attorney-general has opened the door to having a genuine look at how we can make the system work.” The NNTC is calling on the government to consider practical ways of resolving native title that can deliver economic, cultural, and environmental benefits for indigenous people and the federal attorney-general’s desire to negotiate rather than litigate is a way of ensuring this happens. Mr Ripper said the state government acknowledged Noongar people as the traditional owners of the South West region and would continue to negotiate with the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council to resolve their native title claims.

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