What You Need To Know About The Proposed Changes To Native Title

    The biggest story you haven't heard about.

    On Wednesday the federal attorney-general George Brandis introduced legislation to ensure Indigenous land use agreements went ahead.

    This was following a Federal Court ruling earlier this month that a $1.3 billion Native Title settlement was invalid because the agreement failed to gain the support of all of the land's traditional owners.

    So what is a land use agreement? What does the amendment mean for traditional owners opposed to projects occurring on their land? And why are people critical of how quickly Brandis wanted the legislation pushed through parliament?

    What is an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA)?

    An ILUA is a voluntary agreement between Indigenous traditional owners, who have Native Title over their ancestral lands and/or seas, and another group that wants to use the land for agricultural or environmental purposes, or infrastructure projects.

    These groups include state governments and private businesses, such as mining companies, that want to gain access to land for economic development.

    ILUAs can cause deep division among traditional owners. Representatives of family groups within the Native Title area – known as "named applicants" – can object to the ILUAs. Objections can be lodged with the Native Title Registrar, which rules on their validity.

    Some traditional owners object to land use agreements, saying that it weakens Native Title and destroys traditional lands and sacred sites.

    What happened to the $1.3 billion deal in Western Australia?

    In June 2016 the Western Australian government signed an historic $1.3 billion deal with the Noongar people.

    The deal gave the WA government use of Noongar land, made up of six ILUAs covering 200,000 square kilometres.

    The deal included housing and $50 million paid into a Noongar community fund every year over a 12-year period.

    However, that deal is now in question after the Federal Court ruled at the start of February that five of the ILUAs in the deal were invalid after four Noongar representatives refused to sign them, claiming it would strip them of their Native Title.

    "What we managed to do was have the Federal Court agree with our interpretation, that where the legislation says that 'all parties must sign' it means all parties, not some," Kevin Morgan, a lawyer for the complainants, told ABC News.

    "We have run this case and succeeded in at least ensuring for the time being that Native Title is not stripped from our clients."

    That ruling by the Federal Court immediately saw 150 ILUAs around Australia thrown into doubt.

    What is the government proposing?

    Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

    George Brandis acted to protect the ILUAs now in jeopardy.

    One of the biggest projects under a cloud following the Federal Court decision is the $21 billion Adani coal mine in Queensland.

    The Native Title amendments proposed by Brandis would remove the need for all registered claimants to sign off on the ILUA before it proceeded.

    Is there resistance?

    Paul Miller / AAPIMAGE

    Linda Burney.

    Labor and the Greens have voiced frustration over the rushed nature of proposed changes to the legislation.

    Linda Burney, shadow minister for human services, said the decision to rush through the amendments was "disrespectful".

    “Protecting the integrity of the Native Title process is important," Burney told BuzzFeed News.

    “I don’t know what is motivating the attorney-general but it clearly isn’t a desire to engage respectfully with the Aboriginal community or the parliament.”

    Craig Devlin​

    Despite's Burney's stance, Labor in the Senate voted with the Liberals to see off amendments by the Greens to have the reporting date for a committee inquiry into the changes extended from March to May, so as to give more time for consultation with the Aboriginal community.

    Greens senator Rachel Siewert said she was concerned Brandis's push to make changes was a "knee-jerk" reaction to pressure from the resource industry.

    The proposed amendments will be reviewed by the Senate when it reconvenes on March 20.

    Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.

    Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.

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