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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2759

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (12:36): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, I present the committee's advisory report, incorporating a dissenting report, on the Native Title Amendment Bill 2012, together with the minutes of the proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.

Mr NEUMANN: by leave—The Native Title Amendment Bill 2012 proposes reforms to allow parties to agree to set aside the historical extinguishment of native title in areas set aside for the preservation of the natural environment, such as parks and reserves; clarify the meaning of negotiating in good faith in future act negotiations, and makes associated amendments to the right to negotiate provisions; and broaden the scope of and streamline the processes for voluntary Indigenous land use agreements. The House of Representatives Selection Committee referred the bill to our committee on 29 November 2012 for inquiry and an advisory report.

The mandate of the House of Representatives ATSIA committee is to consider and provide an oversight function for the rights, protections, wellbeing and sustainable economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. With this in mind, the ATSIA committee has approached its inquiry into the specific changes to the native title system that are included in this important bill. The bill was also referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee; we understand that committee reported to the Senate on Monday.

In keeping with the mandate of that Senate committee, a more technical inquiry into the provisions of the bill was undertaken. The House of Representatives ATSIA committee received 27 submissions from a range of stakeholders: from mining companies and their representatives, lawyers who practiced in the field and Indigenous groups and their representatives. We held a very informative, interesting and productive roundtable hearing in Redfern on 8 February 2013. Native title lawyers and their representative bodies, mining and exploration interests, and other stakeholders were present at the roundtable. They were not afraid to air their views in relation to those issues. By conducting the hearing as a roundtable, the committee sought to initiate a dialogue about future reforms and to provide a cooperative forum to assess whether the balance of interests was being met by this amending legislation. The committee has used this roundtable format successfully in the term of this parliament during other inquiries.

The report concludes that by providing native title holders and governments with a mechanism to revive native title in parks and reserves traditional owners will be able to contribute to managing their country and heritage. The codification of good faith arrangements will create greater certainty that negotiating with integrity with native title parties is a fundamental part of doing business in Australia, and it should be treated as 'business as usual' by mining and exploration companies.

In relation to the issue of streamlining the processes for the making of Indigenous land use agreements, the report considers that these legislative changes are an important step forward for the alternative agreement-making process that complements native title determinations. On the basis of the evidence received by us, the important changes in these three elements in the bill will be made by this House and the Senate if passed. The report recommends that this bill be passed by this House. And that is our role: to report back in an advisory report.

The legislative reforms currently underway will improve the operation of native title in the short to medium term. However, there is a clear need for ongoing consultation, review and holistic reform of the native title system, and this came out loud and clear during our roundtable. The government needs to build on the productive dialogue, which we believe this committee has initiated, in order to develop a more robust and equitable native title system that delivers sustainable benefits to Indigenous communities and certainty to the mining sector. Accordingly, it is recommended that there be ongoing consultation on future reforms. The committee unanimously recommended that the Minister for Indigenous Affairs refer to this standing committee of the House of Representatives a comprehensive inquiry into the operation of native title at the commencement of the 44th Parliament.

I commend the report to the House.