NTRF changes mean costs

30 Nov, 2012 01:00 AM
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PASTORALISTS involved in Native Title disputes could face huge legal costs as changes to the Native Title Respondent Funding (NTRF) scheme comes into affect next year.

The scheme gives funding access to pastoralists, their legal representatives or their representative bodies to engage in the mediation process of Native Title claims.

It allows pastoralists to be appropriately informed of their rights and the legal and practical effects of Native Title.

Attorney General Nicola Roxon announced in June that as of January 1, 2013, the funding would no longer be available.

In response, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA), along with the State Government, presented a submission to have the scheme extended for two more years.

Last week they were informed they were unsuccessful in their application.

The PGA claimed without the financial assistance of the scheme the pastoral industry in WA was in peril.

PGA president Rob Gillam said the proposed cessation of the NTRF would result in more respondents, less co-ordination and longer timelines to finalise consent determinations.

In WA, Native Title claims were determined in the Federal Court with the State Government as first respondent.

According to Mr Gillam the changes would mean many pastoralists would be forced to withdraw from the process which would mean the State Government would not be able to proceed with the mediation and the Federal Court would be impacted by parties not able to agree to consent determinations.

"This decision will not only destroy the pastoral industry in WA but will also further complicate the existing Native Title process," he said.

Mr Gillam estimated there were 100 unresolved Native Title claims in WA that affected pastoral leases and many of the leases were subjected to multiple claims.

He said the Native Title process was about establishing co-existence between the pastoral industry and the Native Title holders through mediation.

But he questioned the facilitation of co-existance when one party was no longer allowed to come to the table because their funding was cut off.

"Pastoralists have real interest in Native Title claims and like Native Title holders, should be give reasonable opportunity to be heard in Federal Court proceedings," Mr Gillam said.

PGA Native Title chairman Alan Cleland was also dismayed by the recent rejection.

He said the elimination of the scheme would deny all parties due process and the prospect of reaching consent determination would be significantly reduced.

Mr Cleland also said pastoralists were being denied equal justice.

"When the Native Title system was set up there were provisions made to ensure equal funding for respondents and claimants," he said.

"But the Federal Government has walked away from that deal.

"The Attorney General's latest excuse that taxpayers' money should no longer be provided to farmers or fishermen for Native Title matters because they are ordinary business costs, is evidence the chief law officer of the land is prepared to wash her hands of not only the pastoral industry, but the entire Native Title process as well.

"Instead of pandering to the misguided advice of the bureaucrats in Canberra, who appear determined to remove all respondents from Native Title claims, Ms Roxon should be listening to the individuals and families who are facing possible financial ruin as a result of her decision to wind up the Native Title Respondent Funding Scheme."

A spokesperson from the Attorney-General said the government did not believe taxpayers' money should be provided to commercially viable entities for Native Title matters but would continue to provide assistance of new or novel matters and for the cost of disbursements related to claims.

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