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Labor Wik plan irresponsible and unacceptable

Labor's belated response to the Wik decision, as set out in the minority report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Native Title and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Fund is a reckless, irresponsible and unacceptable recipe for economic damage and legal uncertainty.

Ten months after the Wik decision, Labor has produced a response which if ever implemented would threaten the future development of our mining and farming industries, threaten jobs and economic growth in rural and regional Australia, and cause endless litigation.

Labor's response goes way beyond the Wik decision, and in some respects even goes beyond Labor's Native Title Act. It does nothing to correct the obvious unworkability of the Act, and in many ways will make it worse.

Under Labor's Wik Plan:

. The validation proposals mean impossible legal uncertainty for all parties, even though the validation in the Bill is much narrower than that of the 1993 Act. Neither the pastoral and mining industries, nor those holding grants issued between January 1994 and the Wik decision, can continue to operate if the legal status of their grants continues to be uncertain.

. The full unamended statutory Right to Negotiate on pastoral leases would severely affect the future of the mining industry and discriminate unfairly against Australia's farming families by putting in place a regime which gives greater procedural rights to native title claimants than any other interest in the land.

. The extension of the statutory Right to Negotiate to offshore waters goes beyond the current Native Title Act and was never proposed by Labor when in Government. This would give far greater rights to any native title claimant than non-native title holders.

. The limited definition of primary production would mean that the wide range of activities currently carried out legally on pastoral leases would be impermissible under the Act (eg cultivation and cropping in NSW and QLD). It would represent a massive intervention by the Commonwealth in the land management responsibilities of the States. The Minority proposal places a legal minefield in the way of the essential diversification on pastoral lease land.

. Deletion of the provisions allowing the confirmation of the common law extinguishment of native title on exclusive possession leases would create enormous uncertainty, delay, and costly and pointless litigation.

The High Court has already said that native title has been extinguished by grants of exclusive possession. Why should holders of freehold, residential and agricultural leases be unnecessarily dragged into court by native title claims?

. Failure to validate acts that took place on pastoral leases prior to the Wik decision would threaten the legal status of millions of dollars of investments, and is quite contrary to the approach taken by the Labor Government in 1993 in the Native Title Act itself.

Overall, the Labor Plan is potentially disastrous for rural and regional Australia and no responsible Australian Government could possibly support it.

For further information contact Kate Schulze 02 6277 7600