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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13454

Native Title

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (14:24): My question is to the Prime Minister and is on an actual national policy question.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! And now you should allow the member to have his question! The time will start again.

Mr OAKESHOTT: Prime Minister, can you confirm or deny that cuts to the native title processes are under real consideration by your government? If so, can you explain the detail of any cuts under consideration and, more importantly, why?

Mr Ewen Jones interjecting

The SPEAKER: I will give the call when we have some courtesy in the House, Member for Herbert.

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:24): I thank the member for his question and thank him for asking a question which is about a policy matter and a policy matter of extreme importance to the nation's future—that is, how we deal with the legitimate aspirations of Indigenous Australians for control of land, how we deal with land rights and with native title. I am proud that the government has a strong record on native title, that Labor has a strong record on native title and that, in this year, we have marked the 20th anniversary of the Mabo decision. The Mabo decision is one of those things that make you reflect on the nature of political debate and how that political debate is viewed with the remove of history. A divisive political debate where Labor was opposed every step of the way by the conservatives, where they sought to persuade Australians that their backyard was at risk, is now, with the remove of 20 years, accepted as bipartisan settled policy. It might remind people of a few other things that are being debated in this parliament during the course of this year.

Our 2009 reforms to the Native Title Act gave the Federal Court a central role in managing native title claims. Since those reforms, the rate of consent determinations has increased almost fourfold, and I think we would all be very happy to see that: parties working together and coming together for consent determinations. The Attorney-General has recently introduced legislation to bring native title mediation under the control of the Federal Court to ensure that all parties have proper ability to be heard, along with the authority and procedural fairness that comes from court processes. We are now also introducing further reforms to native title, including clearer good-faith provisions, and the Attorney-General is introducing these this week.

In relation to specific changes to native title respondent funding, I can advise the member that these funding changes are nothing new. They were announced in the 2011 budget along with changes to legal financial assistance schemes across a wide range of areas. They follow an independent review on how government can best ensure that finite legal resources, the assistance funds, can help those in need.

The government has provided commercially viable businesses with generous government funding for native title claims for the past 20 years. Now that native title processes are well established, it is not necessary for taxpayers' money to go to commercially viable organisations for native title matters. The revised scheme will continue to provide assistance for new or novel matters and for the costs of disbursements related to native title claims.

I hope that information assists the member. I know that he is very passionate about the pursuit of such issues, and I thank him for the question.

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (14:27): Madam Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. In the light of the answer given, could I seek for the House's purposes the details of the cuts involved and a clarification on the issue of unclogging the native title court process. When all practitioners are arguing for an unclogging, how would any cuts in any way in this regard assist in that unclogging? (Time expired)

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:28): To the member: it is our anticipation that the reduction in funding that I have talked about, in the way in which it is being delivered, will not equate to respondents disengaging from the native title processes—that respondents will still be able to engage in the native title processes. We are talking about processes that are now well established. We are talking about many respondents that are commercially viable entities, and we are therefore talking about those commercially viable entities being able to deal with native title activities through their ordinary business costs. That is why changes in funding, the decisions about funding, have been made. Of course, we are happy to keep the member updated about the progress of this. We obviously would not want to see a clogging up, to use his terminology, of the way in which native title processes work, but that is not our anticipation from this measure.