CONFUSION abounds after the recent decision by the Federal Court to grant native title over Perth to

28 Sep, 2006 07:00 PM
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The single Noongar applica-tion¹s boundaries start on the coast north of Jurien Bay, to north of Moora, then south-east to the southern coast between Bremer Bay and Esperance.

This envelops the Perth metropolitan area and townships including Bunbury, Busselton, Margaret River, Albany, York, Toodyay, Katanning and Merredin.

Rottnest Island and Carnac Islands and coastal waters to a distance of three nautical miles were also included, but later ruled as not applicable.

Justice Murray Wilcox identified that the Noongar people have some rights over the land but all freehold land and most leasehold land is excluded from the ruling so intensive farming and the urban development that is found within the area is unaffected.

Justice Wilcox said that the determination was neither the pot of gold for the indigenous claimants or the disaster for the remainder of the community that was sometimes painted.

Initially there was concern there would be problems with access to public areas such as parks, national parks, rivers, reserves and beaches.

However, access cannot be restricted or controlled in any way by the native title holders and roads and public works in effect extinguish native title.

Amendments to the Native Title Act 1998 preserve existing rights of access to public places such as beaches and national parks.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) Native Title Committee chairman Dan MacKinnon said pastoralists had been thrown into confusion as a result of the ruling.

³Pastoral and agricultural respondents involved in the native title process thought they had some understanding of the Native Title Act from the various Federal Court cases that have been decided in other states and WA previously,² Mr MacKinnon said.

³The judge¹s acceptance of the claimants¹ connection in this matter seemed to us to defy what has happened in, for instance, the Yorta Yorta claim determination in Victoria.

³How will the state have the ability to accurately assess the validity of native title claimants¹ connection with the land if two sets of principles are allowed to exist?²

The PGA has always expres-sed concern at the legitimacy of cultural block-type claims, which appear to disregard historic tribal group connection with particular areas of land.

The PGA has instructed its legal counsel to review the decision because the ramifica-tions may impact on land and water resource use in rural WA, especially in the South-West region.

O¹Connor MHR Wilson Tuc-key said the legislation needed to be revisited to provide simple and stable administrative processes.

³Judges or courts can only make decisions based on the legislation and the present legislation is so imprecise as to invite a wide range of interpretation,² Mr Tuckey said.

³Other problems arising with native title claims in related areas are the continued existence of conditional purchase lease which are not freehold and are not automatically exempt from native title claims.²

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