Jun 07, 2012

Aboriginals of Australia: Native Title Reforms Announced

The Australian Federal Government has announced its intention to reform the native title system that currently exists in Australia; however further reforms are necessary to ensure all inequalities are removed from the system.

Below is an article published by the Australian Human Rights Commission:

Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has welcomed the native title reforms announced by the Government.

“I am heartened by these not reforms which overall appear to indicate a more flexible and responsive approach on the horizon to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Islander people negotiating the native title system,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“The reforms have the potential to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our efforts to have our traditional connection to, and rights and interests in our lands, territories and resources recognised.

“But we must be actively involved in negotiations,” he said.

He said the reforms were a step in the right direction but that further reform was needed to address inequities that remain in the native title system, such as reversing the current and onerous burden of proof provisions.

He also welcomed proposals to allow parties to disregard the historical extinguishment of native title in areas set aside as parks or reserves.

“This reform will go some way towards overturning some of the entrenched dispossession and disadvantage caused by the breadth and permanency of past and current extinguishment practices,” he said.

“The extinguishment of Indigenous rights in land by unilateral uncompensated acts is also completely at odds with Australia’s human rights obligations, specifically the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“I’d also like further consideration to be given to expanding the range of circumstances in which historical extinguishment of native title can be disregarded,” he said.

He welcomed the proposal to legislate the requirements for good faith negotiations and said that clarifying and strengthening the good faith requirements under the right to negotiate provisions in the Native Title Act was long overdue.

“We support the inclusion of explicit criteria for what constitutes good faith as these are one of the few procedural safeguards that native title parties have under the Act.”

Commissioner Gooda said the interaction between native title and the income tax system has always been complex and uncertain and he welcomed the tax changes announced.

“Native title payments, monetary and non-monetary, are in effect a form of compensation and should not be subject to taxation so I’m pleased to hear that income tax and capital gains tax will not apply to payments from native title agreements,” Mr Gooda said.

“Tax exemption will provide certainty of treatment for those receiving payments but I’d like to see this eventually go further with the introduction of a new tax exempt vehicle for use by indigenous peoples receiving and using native title payments.”