The boss of Australia’s native title lobby has warned Indigenous groups cannot be pushed into fast-tracking reforms after a string of high-profile court wins against oil and gas projects.
The boss of Australia’s native title representative body has warned Indigenous groups cannot be pushed into fast-tracking reforms after a string of high-profile court wins against offshore oil and gas projects.
National Native Title Council chief executive Jamie Lowe’s assertion comes after the Federal Court on November 2 pressed pause on Santos’ plans to lay 292 kilometres of pipes for its Barossa project over cultural impact concerns from a Tiwi Island traditional owner.
It also follows Mardhudunera traditional owner Raelene Cooper’s Federal Court win against Woodside Energy which halted the company’s seismic blasting for its Scarborough gas project.
Speaking to Business News after a gathering of sea country traditional owners in Garramilla (Darwin), Mr Lowe said there was minimal urgency for Indigenous people to address the problem.
“We aren't the ones that are losing money at the moment, we are protecting our rights and interests,” he said.
“I think the urgency from governments and industry… is starting to definitely grow.
“We want to work together with industry and government to see what that looks like, but until it actually is in proximity to principles that we want to uphold, we won't be agreeing to any solid way forward.”
Mr Lowe said there was goodwill – albeit forced by legal action – among industry and government to find common ground.
He said the issue had come to a head in the past year as – unlike miners – it was not something companies and agencies operating offshore had experience dealing with yet.
The sticking point in the Woodside case was the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority approving blasting despite ruling the company’s consultation with Murujuga custodians inadequate.
Ms Cooper had brought on the case arguing she was not consulted and raised concern about blasting’s impacts on whales, which are central to traditional owner songlines in the Pilbara.
Mr Lowe said there was a pressing need to come up with a clear pathway and funding for consultation with native title representatives.
“When you start getting government and others picking and choosing who should be the representative, I think that there's some legal issues that you're running to there,” he said.
“Both state and Commonwealth governments haven't really resourced the native title sector appropriately for us to respond to these issues.
“I think we have got a bit of a way to go before that is completely resolved.”
Rights to sea country has been a growing advocacy area for traditional owner groups in recent years.
Native title law is limited to state boundaries, which often leaves country further out to sea where oil and gas companies operate uncovered by native title determinations despite being part of traditional lands.
“So from (the Commonwealth’s) perspective we didn't have any jurisdiction over there, but of course from our perspective, we always did,” Mr Lowe said.
“I think, the oil and gas companies and other proponents… have a fair way go to start respecting First Nations rights and interests.
“We have also seen that government, there's quite a deficit in their knowledge and how to deal with these issues.
“And then you have got the regulator which has also got a capacity issue in dealing with these issues.”
Mr Lowe said it was good to see the conversation come to the surface, and that it had been fairly respectful to date.
He said the body was looking at overseas examples such as Canada to inform best practice for sea country management going forward.