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Land rights decision impacts NT fishing indus -

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(generated from captions) with its tour to Zimbabwe later

this year. The Northern Territory Land Rights Act

enacted by Malcolm Fraser's

Liberal government 30 years ago

has enabled aborigines to win

freehold ownership of 50% of the Northern Territory land

mass. Much of that land runs to

the Territory's coastline and

Aboriginal people have long

argued for their ownership to

extend to the adjoining Waters.

The momentous Federal Court

decision earlier this month has

delivered that outcome altoe

the ter Government has

foreshadowed an appeal to the

High Court. But for now the

decision applies and has

widespread implications for

commercial and recreational

fishermen in the Territory.

The coastline of the Northern

Territory mainland is more than

5,000 km long. A further 2,000

km of kos dn line encompasses

offshore islands. 80% of all

that coastline is Aboriginal

land and Aboriginal land trusts

have long owned the seabed

itself out to the low tide

mark. A court ruling has now

given them the ownership of the

water above that seabed and that's caused great

uncertainties for fishermen and the Northern Territory Government. It is the responsibility of the

Government to work through what

is about as complex a matter as

any government would have to

deal with. This is Blue Mud Bay

in East Arnhem Land. The tiny

settlement of Yilpara, home to

about 70 people, looks out over

the bay and beyond to the gul

of Carpentaria. The people here

have always asserted ownership

of the coastal Waters above the

seabed they already owned and

took their claim to the Federal

Court five years ago. We name

all those seas, we sing those

seas, we dance and it's really important. We patrol those

area, we go through that area.

Every corner, every pay, every

point we know those names. The

Federal Court came to Yilpara

in September 2005 to tell the

local people they had not won

their claim to exclusive

ownership of the waters between

the low and high tide marks of

Blue Mud Bay. The so-called

inter-tidal zone. That enabled the Northern Territory

Government to continue to issue

commercial fishing licences in

the inter-tidal zone. But that

licensing regime, indeed the

Northern Territory Fisheries

Act has been torn up after the

full court of the Federal Court

earlier this month upheld an

appeal from the traditional

owners of Blue Mud Bay. The

Territory Government was caught

flat footed. Surprised, I

spods, once you understood the

application of it and the

Fisheries Act was rendered null

and void there and then. I

didn't understand, I suppose,

the implications that might

flow from their interpretation

of the Land Rights Act and how

it now applies in the

inter-tidal zone. And the

decision as impacts far inland.

Across the Top End, because of

huge tidal ebbs and flows, the

high water mark can extend many

kilometres in from river

mouths. The deeds of Grant

grant under the Aboriginal Land

Rights Act have in fact

abrogated the public right to

fish and navigate and that's

been something that's been

enshrined in English law since prior to Magna Carta. Recreational fishing is

big business in the Northern

Territory. The amateur

fishermen's Association, a powerful political lobby group

claims 40,000 people fish in

the Territory. And spend $45

million a year. We have the

highest percentage of reck

fishes of any state and the

highest boit ownership of any

State so. It's a major industry

in the Territory and of course

it's one of our major d

lifestyle activities. Now that

the Fisheries Act has no force,

the Northern Land Council which

acts for Aboriginal traditional

owners will issue interim

licences to commercial

fisherman in inter-tidal waters

off Aboriginal land. Of

coursely we don't want the

industry to close down. I mean

that's very, very clear. So

whatever it takes to maintain

the status quo is what we we're

working towards. And amateur

fishermen will have to apply to

the Northern Land Council for

permits to fish in what are for

the mean time Aboriginal owned

water. Until the High Court

decides the case, the listens

will be free. But the permanent

regime is likely to be owe pose

fwid the fishermen lobby. If

it's upholds the rools, they're

threatening to call on the Northern Territory Government

to amend the Land Rights Act to

deny the aborigines their new

found ownership of waters. I

think the Government would have

to look at amending the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and there are very significant

implications of that in terms

of the compensation and a whole

range of things but I see very

little, very lilt alternative. When rights, property rights are ascertained

in court it's not a matter of -

it's very un-Australian to go

back and to change the

goalposts and I think any

government that would try to

legislate away people's

property rights is going down a

very, very dangerous path. If

Aboriginal ownership of coastal waters in the Northern

Territory is confirmed by the

High Court, the northern Land

Council sees investment and

employment chances for

Aboriginal people. These

coastal communities have a

legal right to be active in -

as players an stakeholders within the Northern Territory

sea food council, in the

industry itself. So we're

talking about commercial

involvement. Ultimately the

Land Council also wants a role

in policing and regulating

commercial fishery. That could

provide new opportunities and

fully paid work for existing

Aboriginal sea ranger groups

which already operate around

the Top End as CDEP projects. The Northern Territory Government has

foreshadowed an appeal to the

High Court. High Court hands

down its decision. Whatever

that decision is that's what