Streamlining the native title claim process and removing uncertainty around the validity of some mining and exploration agreements are the key aims of a Bill tabled in Parliament today by the Morrison Government.
The Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 implements a range of measures recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) and the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). It was also informed by extensive consultation with native title claimants who said they wanted more flexibility and efficiency built into the system. The Bill will provide claimant groups with:
- Improved pathways for dispute resolution following a determination of native title;
- Increased transparency and accountability for prescribed bodies corporate (the corporations set up to manage native title);
- Greater flexibility for bodies corporate to set their own internal processes.
Importantly, the Bill also seeks to end the uncertainty created by a 2017 Full Federal Court 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 facilitate land access.
The McGlade decision found that such 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 will validate all affected agreements and ensure that a majority of representatives can negotiate on behalf of a claimant group in the future.
"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 all stakeholders," Attorney-General Christian Porter said.
"The Bill also delivers the 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."