Native Title Conference
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Thank you Mick for your introduction.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Wurundjeri people where we are meeting.
And who are hosting the conference.
I also want to acknowledge the hard work of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and Native Title Services Victoria for organising the conference – now in its tenth year.
Ten years ago Native Title was highly contentious. I want to recognise tonight that both the Institute and Representative bodies have been critical since their establishment in moving Australia to a position where it is accepted that Native Title exists as a fundamental right and a fundamental element of our legal system.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be serious and sometimes very difficult negotiations, but the fundamentals are now agreed. You all have a lot to be proud of.
Of course, native title laws need to have the flexibility to keep pace with, and adapt to, the emerging interests, goals and aspirations of traditional owners.
Central to this, as my colleague the Attorney General said this morning, is moving away from a climate of litigation and confrontation to negotiated settlements.
With the aim of reducing the unacceptably slow resolution of claims and securing outcomes that deliver practical benefits for Indigenous Australians.
Native title will always be a real and powerful acknowledgement of Indigenous culture and the ongoing connection to land.
It also has enormous potential to be integral in the delivery of practical, structural change to give generations of Indigenous Australians a better future.
In resource rich areas, native title agreements can, over time, act as vehicles for considerable wealth transfer to Indigenous people.
The challenge for all of us – the policy makers, Indigenous leaders, and resource developers – is to establish a structure of governance that ensures the financial benefits improve the economic status of Indigenous people.
It’s our shared responsibility to make sure the millions of dollars flowing into Indigenous trusts are used to create economic opportunities for generations to come.
This requires innovative and far-sighted thinking from Indigenous interests, government and industry.
One of the requirements of leadership is to do the deals that deliver on the long term benefits.
We saw and example of this in the Kimberley recently.
A landmark agreement was reached between the Kimberley Land Council, Woodside and the Western Australian Government to move forward with the Kimberley Liquefied Natural Gas precinct at James Price Point. I was pleased to help with the facilitator, Bill Gray.
Traditional owners will receive economic and social benefits including funds for economic development, housing, education and cultural preservation.
To achieve these sorts of agreements we need to build a more efficient native title system.
This includes improving the capacity of previously under-resourced Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs).
That’s why in this Budget extra money was available to NTRBs – to improve their capacity to meet the needs of native title claimant groups in the system and to speed up the resolution of claims.
We’ve also allocated more funding to improve claims resolution by working with State and Territory Governments to develop new approaches to the settlement of claims through negotiated agreements.
Just recently I was in the Torres Strait and saw first hand not only the tangible benefits but also the intangible – the confidence that the certainty of native title brings to people.
As Mick says, “For us, land has a spiritual, cultural, political and economic value.
“It supports our identity, our spirit, our social relations, our cultural identity and our survival.”
I also saw this when I visited Lake Condah in south west Victoria last year, to transfer ownership of the Lake Condah mission site and cemetery to the Gunditjmara people.
As you all know Lake Condah is the site of one of Australia’s oldest aquaculture ventures. For thousands of years the Gunditjmara people fished for eels for food and trade.
Today it continues as a thriving enterprise – hosting visitors on heritage tours and developing important water restoration and sustainability projects.
It was a great honour for me to return the country into the care of its traditional owners who are managing their land in the best economic, social and cultural interests of their people.
It demonstrates so vividly how the Gunditjmara people’s connection to land is helping build a strong and self-reliant community.
A community that is preserving its culture and at the same time confidently meeting the challenges of the future.
A fine example and a great inspiration to us all.