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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31570

Mr SECKER (5:06 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Committee on Native Title and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Fund, I present the committee's report on the examination of annual reports 2002-03, together with evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mr SECKER —by leave—This report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Native Title and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Fund on the examination of annual reports for 2002-03 reviews the performance of the National Native Title Tribunal, the Indigenous Land Corporation and the land fund in the reporting period 2002-03. The committee has a statutory duty to examine these annual reports and held public hearings on 12 February 2004 with the National Native Title Tribunal and on 2 March 2004 with the Indigenous Land Corporation in Canberra.

I would like to outline briefly some of the issues which have arisen in the course of the committee's examination of the annual report for the National Native Title Tribunal. In the year covered by this report, the High Court and the Federal Court delivered a number of landmark decisions, including Western Australia v. Ward, Wilson v. Anderson, and Members of the Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Community v. Victoria. These af-fected a range of tribunal activities, including the registration and testing of claimant applications, the mediation and settlement of claimant applications, the areas over which native title might or might not be found to exist and hence the areas where procedural rights under the Native Title Act may or may not be exercised.

One consequence of those decisions was a slowing down of some activities and some lower than expected outputs. An additional consequence was an increased need for assistance to parties who wished to clarify their positions in the light of the implications of these decisions. The main concern the committee had was the estimating process for the tribunal's work, as well as the associated expenditure. While the committee appreciates that there are uncontrollable variables which affect tribunal outcomes, the committee would like to see closer relationships between expectations and results. However, I hasten to add that the tribunal has presented the parliament with a comprehensive and meticulously prepared document, which not only complies with the formal requirements of reporting, but includes useful information over and above the basic legislative and regulatory requirements.

I now turn to the report of the Indigenous Land Corporation, which also includes the report on the operation of the Indigenous Land Fund. The Indigenous Land Corporation presented a report which complies with the annual report requirements. The corporation purchases and manages properties for eventual management and ownership by Indigenous people. The corporation's work in the past year included a shift in focus to capacity building for the management of pastoral properties in conjunction with individual Indigenous groups. There is a particular aspect of this which the committee hopes will be featured in next year's ILC annual report: this is the resumption of a stock strategy to feed prime breeding stock from Roebuck Plains Station to other Indigenous owned pastoral leases in the Kimberley. Although the strategy was temporarily suspended, the committee considers that it would assist in the improvement of Roebuck Plains as well as the other properties.

The committee notes that the requirements for the Indigenous Land Fund under section 192I of the ATSIC Act have been complied with and that the financial statements for 2002-03 have received an unqualified audit report. The Land Fund is at a crossroads in its development. The last payment from government was received last July and strategies are being explored to support the land fund in providing ongoing income for the ILC. It was encouraging to observe that the real return on investments exceeded the 2 per cent per annum previously identified as required, as at 30 June 2002, to reach the June 2004 target balance of the fund.