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NSW charges demonstrate need for indigenous fisheries rights.

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission

Media Releases

NSW Charges Demonstrate Need for Indigenous Fisheries Rights


Statement by NSW Commissioners Steve Gordon, Cliff Foley and Rick Griffiths and ATSIC Queanbeyan Chair Iris White

The appearance in a NSW Court yesterday by 16 Aboriginal people charged under the NSW Fisheries Act is a clear indication that the NSW Government has failed to address Indigenous aspirations in the state’s fisheries.

It is absolutely scandalous that more than a decade after the High Court finally recognised our native title rights our people are being hounded by fisheries inspectors, police and the criminal justice system.

We call on Premier Bob Carr and NSW Fisheries Minister, Ian McDonald, to immediately negotiate an arrangement with the NSW ATSIC State Council and the recently established Indigenous Advisory Group to ensure that these prosecutions desist and that the aspirations of NSW coastal Aboriginal people are met.

Access to commercial fisheries is the birthright of coastal Aboriginal peoples and could provide an economic base for these peoples and their descendents.

South Coast Kooris have fished their traditional sea country since time immemorial and have managed their resources in a skilled and responsible way.

Rather than arresting our people for exercising their ancestral rights the NSW Government would be better advised to seek to incorporate into their management plans the knowledge and resource management skills still held by our Elders.

The irony of yesterday’s court appearances is that they take place in Bateman’s Bay the same town where a weekend forum on Indigenous Fishing Rights was just held.

That Forum was attended by Indigenous fishers from along the NSW coast who explained their historic custodianship of fisheries within their traditional sea country.

These fishers were given the knowledge of their forebears before passing that knowledge down to the generations that are being prosecuted and threatened with incarceration today.

At a time when there should be greater efforts made to reduce the already obscenely high rates of Indigenous imprisonment in NSW this Government appears hell-bent on criminalising our people for fishing.

These are not poachers but proud Aboriginal people exercising their traditional rights.

The Indigenous traditional owners of the NSW Coast accept the need for management of the State’s fisheries but such management can only work if it is based on acknowledgement and respect of our native title rights rather than our exclusion.

The consultative process attached to the NSW Government’s Indigenous Fisheries Strategy has been ineffective and it is now time to revisit that strategy and negotiate with Aboriginal people to ensure that our rights and aspirations are reflected in the Strategy and that the long-term sustainability of the Fisheries are ensured.

In the meantime we call for an immediate moratorium on further prosecutions and the dropping of all charges against the 16 before the courts yesterday.

Canberra June 17 2003

Alastair Harris 0409 658 177