Press Release

Rob_gillam_formal

ROXON’S BUDGET CUTS LEAVE PASTORALISTS IN TURMOIL

2012-11-22

The future of the Western Australian pastoral industry is in peril following the decision by the Attorney General, Nicola Roxon to eliminate the Native Title Respondent Funding Scheme on 1 January 2013, forcing hundreds of pastoralists to either disengage from Native Title deliberations or pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs.

 

As of 1 January 2013 pastoralists, their representative bodies, and their legal advisors will no longer be able to access financial assistance for legal fees to deal with Native Title claims following the cessation of the Native Title Respondent Funding Scheme.

 

“This is an absolute injustice, not only to those pastoralists and their families, who will be forced to pay their own legal costs, but also for the entire Native Title process,” Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) President Rob Gillam said.

 

“The Native Title process is supposed to be about establishing coexistence between the pastoral industry and Native Title holders through mediation, rather than litigation - so how do you facilitate coexistence when one party is no longer allowed to come to the table when their funding is cut off because the Government wants to ensure it will achieve a surplus? “

 

“Pastoralists hold existing interests in land concurrently with Native Title holders. As such they have a real interest in Native title claims and, like Native Title holders, should be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard in Federal Court native title proceedings.”

 

“The current funding scheme provides unique access to group representation and legal advice that allows pastoralists to be appropriately informed of their rights, the legal and practical effects of native title and how most effectively they can participate. The proposed cessation of Commonwealth funding will result in significantly more respondents, less coordination and longer timelines to finalise consent determinations.”

 

“There are an estimated 100 unresolved native title claims in Western Australia, of which 85 are ‘active claims’ (placed in mediation by the Native Title Tribunal or Federal Court) that affect the 510 pastoral leases in WA.  Many of these leases are subject to two or more multiple claims, with overlapping occurring in numerous cases.”

 

If each claim were to have individual pastoralists as respondents as opposed to the existing group representation funded under the current scheme the costs to the Government of this change alone will far outweigh the cost of keeping pastoralists around the table in mediation.” 

“In addition, in Western Australia, all Native Title claims are determined in the Federal Court with the WA State Government as first respondent. If pastoralists are faced with no decision but to withdraw from the Native Title process, then not only will the WA State Government be unable to proceed with mediation, but the Federal Court will be impacted by parties not able to agree to consent determinations,” Mr Gillam said.

 

“This decision by Attorney General Nicola Roxon will not only destroy the pastoral industry in Western Australia, but will also further complicate the existing Native Title process.”

 

“The PGA and other organizations involved in Native Title have requested to the Attorney General that the Scheme be extended for two years at a total cost of $2.2 million.”

 

“This amount is small change for any Government Department and it is beyond comprehension why Attorney General Roxon is prepared to sacrifice the pastoral industry for what she calls ‘Budget Constraints’. This decision is unfair on the hundreds of Australian families who have pastoral leases; unfair to the native title claimants who will now face further delays in finalizing claims; and unjust to the entire Australian legal system which demands that all parties be adequately represented.

 

“The Attorney General needs to do what is right by all parties and reinstate the Native Title Respondent Funding Scheme for a period of two years” said Mr Gillam.

 

 

 

 

 

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