Wednesday, 18 May 2005

Commissioner welcomes historic land use agreements in Northern Territory

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, today congratulated the Northern Territory Government, the Central and Northern Land Councils and traditional owners throughout the region on the negotiation of 31 Indigenous land use agreements over national parks in the Territory.

The agreements cover 27 national parks in the Northern Territory, including the West MacDonnell National Park near Alice Springs, the Devils Marbles and the extensive and remote Gregory National Park west of Katherine.

"Traditional owners, governments and land councils have worked quickly to achieve this outcome and have demonstrated what is possible through native title if negotiations are based on strong rights and mutual respect," said Mr Calma.

Under the agreements, all national parks will be jointly managed by traditional owners and the Northern Territory Government. In some of the parks, the agreements provide traditional owners with freehold ownership on a 99-year leaseback arrangement to the government.

The catalyst for these negotiations was the 2002 Miriuwung Gajerrong decision, which cast doubt over whether national parks in the Northern Territory had been properly declared. However, instead of going to court to resolve this issue, the Northern Territory Government, the land councils and traditional owners have come to an agreed outcome.

The same decision which covered claims in the Northern Territory and Western Australia had the opposite effect across the border. Native title rights in nature reserves in WA were completely extinguished by the Miriuwung Gajerrong decision.

"The outcome in Miriuwung Gajerrong demonstrates how differences in state or territory legislation drafted 20, 30 or even 70 years ago can either extinguish or strengthen native title rights. This reinforces the need for negotiations to be committed to achieving just outcomes - and not just the letter of the law," the Commissioner said.

"The result in the Northern Territory is a great win for Indigenous people throughout Australia and raises the standard for increased Indigenous ownership and participation in the management of national parks all over the country."

Media contact: Paul Oliver (02) 9284 9880 or 0408 469 347

Last updated 18 May 2005.