Press Release

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ROXON DENIES PASTORALISTS FAIR LEGAL REPRESENTATION

2012-11-26

Western Australian pastoralists are calling for Attorney General Nicola Roxon to front up to the hundreds of Native Title Respondents in WA and explain why the Labor Government is refusing to provide all parties with fair and reasonable representation in Native Title mediations.

“The Attorney General’s latest excuse that taxpayers’ money should no longer be provided to farmers or fishermen for native title matters because they are ordinary business costs is evidence that the chief law officer of the land is prepared to wash her hands of not only the pastoral industry, but the entire Native Title process as well," Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) Native Title  Chairman Alan Cleland said today.

 “The Government is more than happy to spend $9 million in taxpayers funds in a failed attempt to turn Henbury Station near Alice Springs into an arid zone carbon farm, yet considers spending $1.1 million a year to allow pastoralists to have fair and competent legal representation in Native Title mediations as a waste of tax dollars.”

 “Pastoralists are the only party directly and practically affected by Native Title on a daily basis, and as such they have a real interest in Native title claims and, like Native Title claimants, should be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard in Native Title proceedings. If Pastoralists are forced to disengage from Native Title mediations then this will effectively deny all parties due process and will not facilitate understanding and coexistence between pastoralists and traditional owners.”

“The preferred outcome is for Native Title claims to be resolved through mediation rather than litigation.  However if the funding of participation in mediation is removed, the prospect of all parties agreeing a consent determination will be substantially reduced.”

“And how can the Attorney General expect any pastoralist to sign a consent determination if they have not been involved in the process from the beginning and are without access to legal representation," Mr. Cleland said.

 “The Respondent Funding Scheme was set up in the Native Title Act 1993 to ensure all parties, whether respondent or claimant, were able to obtain proper legal representation in all matters relating to Native Title.”

 “Most pastoral leases in Western Australia are held by small family run businesses – not large corporations who can afford to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs - and as such they are unable to access legal aid funding. So if they cannot afford the costs of legal representation for the one, two, or half a dozen claims that are on their property, what happens then?”

"Instead of pandering to the misguided advice of the bureaucrats in Canberra who are determined to remove all respondents from Native Title claims, Ms. Roxon should be listening to the individuals and families who are facing possible financial ruin as a result of her decision to wind up the Native Title Respondent Funding Scheme."

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