NT land claims backed by review
The Federal Aboriginal Land Commissioner has rejected “ungracious” objections to Aboriginal claims over NT river regions.
Recreational and commercial fishers and cattle station owners lodged an objection to 16 outstanding Northern Territory Indigenous land claims being granted.
The claims over the Finniss, Lower Daly, Roper, Wearyan, Robinson, and McArthur Rivers, and parts of Mataranka, Limmen Bight, Maria Island, Lorella, Seven Emu, Wollogorang and Manangoora have been recommended to be granted to traditional owners, but have not yet been officially signed off.
The final decision rests with Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, who asked retired Federal Court Justice John Mansfield to review claims by stakeholder groups that they be unfairly affected if Aboriginal rights were restored.
The stakeholder groups fear that they would have to pay millions of dollars in compensation to the owners of the land and water on which they operate.
Mr Mansfield dismissed almost all of the objections raised by the Amateur Fishermen's Association, NT Seafood Council and Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association.
“Those concerns can be accommodated by adopting the proposals of the Northern Land Council (NLC) on behalf of the traditional owners, so effectively allowing those activities to continue after the grants of the claimed areas,” he reported.
“In the case of recreational fishers that is to be done by a permit management system … in my view the proposed system is a satisfactory one.”
The former judge said the detriment of having to pay for recreational fishing permits “after a generous moratorium period” would be “minor”.
A proposal for pastoralists to obtain a licence to continue running cattle “at a nominal rental … again seems to me a satisfactory one”, he said.
“That is despite the pedantic, and in some cases ungracious, responses of some pastoralists participating in the review.”
The commissioner said the minster should not need further consultation with any other stakeholders except the Northern Territory Government.
“It would be a prolonged and unsatisfactory exercise given the range of responses from those participants between acceptance, and hostility and much in between,” he reported.
The traditional owners promised to allow some recreational fishing and pastoral access to their land and water to continue, which Mr Mansfield said was “significant”.
“I have come to the conclusion generally that it is appropriate for the Minister to make the claimed grants without requiring that the interest of the commercial fishers under their respective licences are taken into account.”
The claimants are now waiting on Senator Nigel Scullion’s decision, who controversially helped fund the objections with money from his own Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding program.
He said helping lobbies lodge objections would somehow speed up the resolution of outstanding land claims.