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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 3523

Mr OAKESHOTT (5:30 PM) —I will be short because I know there are several other speakers wanting to get on the record this evening. I pick up on the words of the previous speaker, the chair of the Public Accounts and Audit Committee. In relation to the Native Title Amendment Bill 2009, and all bills that go through parliament, I would certainly hope we are not now hearing of the Audit Office losing over a third of its budget and therefore being allowed to do two-thirds of the work. I would certainly hope that the Joint Standing Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, of all committees in this place, would argue the case well for a strong Auditor-General to overview programs involving issues such as native title, when we have a clearly broken native title system in Australia with, as I said previously, 81 determinations in the previous nine years at a cost of $11 million a determination. The system is inefficient and it is unjust in the slow outcomes that we are seeing, with a backlog of over 500 determinations waiting to be resolved.

In conclusion and summary, I think there would be general agreement that alternative dispute resolution methods and mediation are the way forward in regard to native title. The role of the Federal Court of Australia being increased in that process is welcomed. I think the Federal Court of Australia will be able to refer native title and compensation applications for mediation and give effect to terms of agreement reached by parties to proceedings, including terms that involve matters other than native title. That is a positive step forward. I hope that having one body controlling the direction of each claim will mean that opportunities for resolution will be more readily identified and the interests of the parties involved better focused. It will also allow decision-making processes to be quickened, as determinations are not just limited to native title claims and therefore recognise the broader nature of most of the claims that are before the court.

Some of those other matters that are to be considered, and are welcomed as part of this reform, are economic development opportunities, training opportunities, employment and heritage issues, and sustainability and viability issues. I note that the parties will still have to agree on the further matters; therefore mediation is still in play in relation to these other matters. The court can give effect to the parties’ agreements and make orders that pertain to both native title and related matters, and therefore the process becomes more finalised.

So, whilst I think that these are good and welcome reforms, this amendment has had a three-year genesis. I note the apology is a symbolic step along the way to hopefully seeing some of the detailed work—not just in legal reform but in justice reform—that we see in this amendment. I also foreshadow an amendment that I will be moving in the consideration in detail stage of this bill, as part of that process of walking together—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous—into the future. As part of getting better justice outcomes and more efficiency outcomes from the native title process I foreshadow the amendment, which I will talk about in detail. Over the three years of discussion leading up to where we are today, this has come up repeatedly from people such as Chief Justice French; retired justice Wilcox; Tom Calma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Race Discrimination Commissioner; Tony McAvoy; and Kevin Smith of the National Native Title Tribunal. They are all voices of people who work and practice in this area or with bodies that work on detail in this area.

I hope that when we get down to the consideration in detail stage of this debate the amendment is considered in good faith by the government, because this has come up on several occasions. It is a sensible proposal that has come forward, and I was both surprised and disappointed that it was not part of the package that is before the parliament today. It has been referred to by government members speaking on this as an issue for further consideration. I hope that we do not miss the opportunity that is before this House to include it in the Native Title Amendment Bill, and therefore to get the even better justice and efficiency outcomes that this amendment would achieve by its passage through this place.