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Western Australia: President of the Native Title Tribunal is concerned that the new State Commission will end his role and will force the Tribunal to abandon its headquarters in Perth.

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PETER THOMPSON: Western Australia is moving to be the first State to set up its own Native Title Commission under the provisions of the recent Wik amendments, but Justice Robert French, the head of the National Native Title Tribunal, believes the new State Commission will end his role in the west and will force the Tribunal to abandon its headquarters in Perth.  Kirsty Alfredson reports.


KIRSTY ALFREDSON:  Of Australia’s 700 or so native title claims, more than 300 originate in Western Australia, and it’s on that basis the National Native Title Tribunal established its head office in Perth.  President of the Tribunal, Justice Robert French, says if the two proposed Bills are passed and a new State Native Title Commission is established, then the Tribunal’s role would be phased out.  The new Commission would register all native title claims and manage negotiations between Aboriginal people, government and industry.


ROBERT FRENCH:  If that happens, then this Tribunal would no longer have any function in Western Australia and would have to withdraw from this State.


KIRSTY ALFREDSON: So your head office will have to move?


ROBERT FRENCH: The head office would have to be relocated ultimately if all this comes to pass, yes.


KIRSTY ALFREDSON: West Australian Premier, Richard Court, wants to introduce the native title Bills into Parliament next month and hopes the Federal Government will expedite its approval.


RICHARD COURT: The State Native Title Commission will have to be, in Western Australia, quite a large body because of the sheer volume of claims that are flowing through the system.  We believe that there will be an orderly transfer.  We are keen for the Native Title Tribunal to retain its national office here in Perth.  As the different States establish their own regimes, obviously their workload will decrease, but we are still keen for the Federal body to retain its headquarters here.


KIRSTY ALFREDSON: Justice Robert French says, personally, he’ll be sad to go.  Of the Tribunal’s 260 staff, 150 are based in Perth.


ROBERT FRENCH: I would be sorry to see the concentration of expertise that was built up in this State, and a lot of people who live and work in Western Australia work in the National Native Title Tribunal and have established relationships with many stakeholders right across the State in what is a difficult and ongoing process.  I’ll be sad to see that effectively dismantled.  There will be an economic cost involved.  At the same time, the State has the legal right to set up its own Commission.  That legal right has been achieved through a democratic process and we will certainly work in a cooperative way with the State in any transitional arrangements that have to be made.


PETER THOMPSON: Justice Robert French, the President of the Native Title Tribunal.