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Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 21 Mar 2011

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (4.25 pm)—I move:

That the following bill be introduced: A Bill for an Act to amend the Native Title Act 1993 to further the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and for related purposes.

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (4.25 pm)—I present the explanatory memorandum and move: That this bill be now read a second time.

The Native Title Amendment (Reform) Bill 2011 begins to address the failure of the Native Title Act 1993 (NTA) to deliver on its initial intent to provide meaningful rights and a basis for economic and community development to Aborigi-nal and Torres Strait Islander people in the 18 years since its introduction. By introducing this Bill and any further reforms in the future we intend to contribute constructively to a debate about na-tive title reform that can ultimately lead to simpler legislation which produces more meaningful outcomes in a more timely fashion for all those involved.

In this first Bill we have sought to address some of the ‗low-hanging fruit‘ of native title reform – by targeting some of the areas of native title law where relatively simple amend-ments have been identified that could have far-reaching im-plications for addressing some of the current barriers to ef-fective native title outcomes … essentially cutting a bit of a path through what Justice Kirby describes as the 'impenetrable jungle' of native title litigation. Almost two decades after the introduction of the NTA it is fair to say that native title has failed to deliver on its promises – as explicitly state in the Preamble to the Act, and in its Objects.

The Preamble states that:

"The people of Australia intend: (a) to rectify the consequences of past injustices by the spe-cial measures contained in this Act… for securing the adequate advancement and protection of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders; and (b) to ensure that Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Is-landers receive the full recognition and status within the Australian nation to which history, their prior rights and interests, and their rich and diverse culture, fully entitle them to aspire."

We hope that by the time we reach the twentieth anniversary of the NTA in 2013 the process of native title reform will be seriously underway, and we will be able to see native title delivering on some of the seemingly forgotten promises con-tained in the preamble to and objects of the NTA.

In practice, the people who the Act recognises and describes as "…the most disadvantaged group is society…" as a con-sequence of the dispossession of their lands, have had to rely on one of the longest and most complex pieces of Australian legislation to try to ―…secure their advancement… and to recognise and protect (not establish) their pre-existing rights. In nearly two decades since its introduction only a handful of native title claims have been resolved, with many of these being in remote areas which had been of little interest to European colonists. For the majority of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly those in urban ar-eas and regional centres, native title has offered little and delivered less.

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