Miners are backing the need for urgent changes to Australia’s native title laws, warning a recent court ruling casts doubt over hundreds of agreements with indigenous communities.
A Senate committee on Monday was hearing views on legislation expedited through the lower house in February that aims to reverse a Federal Court ruling which effectively allows a single claimant to prevent a land use agreement from being registered.
Previously, indigenous land use agreements (ILUAs) could be registered by the Native Title Tribunal so long as they were authorised by a representative group.
But the case – known as McGlade – changed that to require signatures of all native title claimants.
The Queensland Resources Council’s lawyer Tony Denholder warned the latest ruling could also mean if someone dies during a year-long negotiation process then another process would have to begin.
“We do know from practice (the process) can take six months, 12 months, 18 months. It’s costly,” he said.
Council chief executive and former cabinet minister Ian Macfarlane said the proposed amendments would mean existing ILUAs “under a cloud” would be sorted out.
“We need this resolved,” he told the hearing in Brisbane.
He warned further amendments would be needed for the right to negotiate agreements, but it was important to push through these initial reforms first.
It’s believed the February ruling has invalidated up to 150 existing agreements, including some around agricultural and mining ventures.
Labor and the Greens have slammed the government for failing to properly consult over the changes, which they say could have significant implications.
Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners fighting Adani’s Carmichael mine want the inquiry to be extended to allow proper consultation with Aboriginal communities.
“The government has manufactured a false urgency so it can slip legislation through to defeat Aboriginal peoples’ rights without the necessary public scrutiny or Indigenous participation,” spokesman Adrian Burragubba plans to tell the inquiry.
“This bill will ensure miners and other rich developers will have even better tools to divide and conquer us.”
The peak native title body supports the passage of the changes, saying they will be significant in putting beyond doubt the existing uncertain interests of parties to affected ILUAs.
The committee will report back on Friday, ahead of parliament’s return on Monday.