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Native Title claims stalled by government cuts

28 November 2012

In a move that has angered farmers and landholders, the Federal Government has extended its cost cutting to native title, with a decision to cease funding to respondents in native title claims from the beginning of next year.

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is calling on the Government to review the decision, ensuring respondents have equal access to justice as claimants in the native title claim process.

“Farmers have been willing participants in native title claims and settlements since 1996, under a system that, to date, ensures both the claimant and the respondent have fair and equal access to assistance and legal representation,” NFF President Jock Laurie said.

“However, the decision by the Government means that from 1 January 2013, only native title claimants will continue to receive government support in having their claims heard. Respondents will now be left to foot the hefty bills for legal representation themselves or be left to represent themselves. Either way this move will create inequality between the treatment of claimants and respondents.

“This is severely jeopardising the goodwill of the current system for the sake of Government cost cutting. By cutting funding for respondents, the Government will save only $2.2 million over two years – hardly a vast sum of money for the Government, yet vital funds for the more than 1,300 respondents still to have their native title cases heard.

“If funding for respondents is cut, momentum will be lost as the Courts and other parties deal with an influx of self-represented farmers or legal representatives for a host of individuals – as opposed to the current system where one lawyer and one Native Title Officer represents all of the pastoral respondents in one claim. Worse still for the government, this is likely to cost more than the $2.2 million they seek to save.

“With only an expected two years left to run in native title cases, we call on the Government to reverse this decision and ensure the fair and equitable system that currently exists is able to continue.

“As Justice Logan, who presided over a native title claim in QLD recently, said in his judgement, claims can be fraught with the potential for creating tension and anxiety amongst those with primary interests in land the subject of a native title claim, particularly pastoralists.

“Justice Logan said that the representation and advice made available by the Commonwealth does much to dispel the tensions and anxiety and to result in the efficient progress and resolution of a native title claim. In his judgement, he says that he very much doubts such resolution would be possible without the availability of such advice.

“We urge the Government to continue to fund landholder and leaseholder native title respondents to ensure a fair and equitable system for all involved, and to ensure the process of hearing claims can continue in good faith,” Mr Laurie said.

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