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Western Australia: implications of Perth native title claim cause confusion.

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Friday 22 September 2006

Western Australia: implications of Perth native title claim cause confusion


MARK COLVIN: There's confusion tonight over the extent of a Federal Court decision that grants native title over Perth. 


The court has recognised the Noongar people as the city's traditional owners and granted them title over unclaimed crown land. 


Now there are suggestions that their claim could also extend to parks and even beaches, where no formal title exists.  


One town that's long since dealt with the ramifications of native title is Alice Springs, and civic leaders there say native title has only been a good thing.  


Anne Barker reports.  


ANNE BARKER: The Noongar people in Perth are the first Aboriginal tribe to succeed in claiming native title over a capital city. 


The Federal Court decision extends to all vacant crown land in and around Perth. But just what constitutes vacant crown land isn't entirely clear, and even the Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, on air this morning, said that many parks and beaches could well be deemed off limits to the public. 


PHILIP RUDDOCK: If it hasn't been clearly reserved and dedicated for public purposes, we can't preclude that a native title claim, having been established, would mean that Indigenous people would say this is available for our exclusive use and if you want to use it you would have to obtain our permission. 


ANNE BARKER: The Federal Court decision has given new hope to other native title claimants still in the courts, in Melbourne and on the Gold Coast. And it's reignited community fears about the loss of public land and the broader impact of native title in urban areas. 


One town that's been through it all is Alice Springs, where the Aranda people were granted native title six years ago. 


And the Alice Springs Mayor, Fran Kilgariff, says, in the end, native title has been a positive thing for the town. 


FRAN KILGARIFF: There's not a lot of crown land in, within the municipality. Further out, where you have national parks and pastoral leases and that sort of thing, it is a little bit more unclear, but within the town itself we haven't had any issues of lack of access. 


ANNE BARKER: So is Philip Ruddock scaremongering, in your view? 


FRAN KILGARIFF: I don't know. I think native title over a city and a capital city the size of Perth, perhaps is a much bigger thing, much more complicated. 


Certainly, in Alice Springs, people were very nervous to start with. They thought that, you know, their backyards would be subject to native title and that sort of thing. That hasn't happened, and I think to a great deal, to a large extent, most people in town wouldn't even realise that there is a native title granted over Alice Springs because, on a day-to-day basis, it doesn't affect them at all. 


ANNE BARKER: One downside in Alice Springs until recent years was a sudden serious shortage of land for housing and development. 


Real Estate Agent Andrew Doyle says for years native title locked away all vacant land until traditional owners were in a position to sell. 


ANDREW DOYLE: Fifteen years ago there would've been probably an average of 60 or 70 residential blocks of land being traded, to getting down to probably five or ten for a couple of years when there was a real shortage. So it really did contract the market.  


And the other thing that it also did is it made it very difficult for the builders in town, because there was no land available to go out and build speculative homes on, and so we also have seen a contraction in our building industry and the loss of a number of builders and different tradespeople from our town. 


ANNE BARKER: So if Perth residents are looking to Alice Springs for any indication on what native title could mean for them, should they have any concerns? 


ANDREW DOYLE: They would be better positioned than what we were here, say, eight or ten years ago, when the original decision was handed down. Because one of the big issues we had here was that the Lhere Artepe group were the native title body corporate was only formed… took a long time, six, seven years for that body corporate to actually be formed, which was the entity charged with the legal capacity to deal on behalf of the native title claimants. 


MARK COLVIN: Real Estate Agent Andrew Doyle in Alice Springs, with Anne Barker.