Report into detriment review tabled in Parliament

Date: Feb 21, 2019

The Aboriginal Land Commissioner’s Report on the review of detriment into Aboriginal Land Claims recommended for grant but not yet finalised was tabled in Parliament on Thursday, 21 February 2019.

The report provides advice on 16 longstanding Aboriginal land claims, from as early as 1981, in the Northern Territory that have been recommended for grant but not yet granted. They date from 14 to 38 years ago (1981 to 2004).

Ordinarily the Commissioner would not have a function to perform in respect of claims already recommended for grant. However in July 2017 the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, requested the advice of the Commissioner under s 50(1)(d) of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA) in relation to the status of detriment issues associated with these claims. 

Settlement negotiations will be assisted significantly by the detriment review.

Twelve of the 16 claims relate to land which comprise beds and banks of rivers and/or the intertidal zone. 

Major submissions on detriment concern the interests of recreational and commercial fishers, and of pastoralists – represented by the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the NT (AFANT), the NT Seafood Council (NTSC) and the NT Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA).

The report notes that the concerns of recreational fishers and pastoralists can be accommodated by adopting the proposals put forward by the NLC on behalf of traditional owners, which would allow activities to continue after the grants of the claimed areas. 

For recreational fishers, activities could continue thanks to a permit system administered by the NLC. In the report, the Commissioner says the NLC’s proposed system is a satisfactory one, both in its ambit and in its procedures. 

While a permit system has been in place for many years, NLC constituents and the public have been calling for improvements for some time. The NLC is currently developing a new and easy-to-use permit system that will better protect Aboriginal rights and interests and better serve the needs and interests of visitors to Aboriginal land. 

The new permit system will improve management and regulate access to traditional lands; ensure visitors understand their obligations under the law and are safe and informed while visiting Aboriginal land; protect and promote Aboriginal rights, interests and culture, and promote mutual respect between Traditional Owners and visitors; enable NLC and Traditional Owners to track trends in visitor numbers, feedback and compliance hotspots; and be modern, intuitive, responsive and reliable. 

The new system is expected to be in place later in 2019, ensuring a long lead time to add areas to the permit system as land is granted and instructions obtained. 

While the Commissioner concedes one ongoing detriment will be the need to obtain a permit, he says “This is a minor matter where it can be obtained, on-line, and there are a range of options to suit most fishing needs.”

The other ongoing detriment will be the fee payable for the permit, after a generous moratorium period. “That too is a minor matter, not shown to be significant except in a general way and which should not impede the significant majority of fishers.” 

In relation to pastoralists, the NLC has proposed a licence to allow pastoralists to carry out their activities in the use of the claimed areas. 

Under section 11A of ALRA, agreements can be made between the NLC and another party that only come into effect if and when the land is granted.

The view of the NLC is that the agreements would be mutually beneficial and we welcome the opportunity to work with pastoralists toward this goal. 

The Commissioner has outlined that the proposal from the NLC appears to be a satisfactory one. 

The Commissioner’s recommendation is that such detriment claims should not stand in the way of the grants of the lands claimed.

Senator Scullion said in a statement: “All parties with an interest in the land claims reported on by the Commissioner will be given the opportunity to comment on the report before the Minister makes any decision about whether to proceed with the recommendations for grants of land under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.”

“It is critical that this many years into the process we do all we can to help settle outstanding claims to provide certainty and opportunity to all Territorians. I also maintain my commitment to work with all stakeholders to ensure that detriment issues are resolved.

“My commitment to the resolution of outstanding land claims has been supported by additional investment in the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Northern Territory Land Councils and other stakeholders.”