The Wild Rivers Bill advocates providing Aboriginal land owners with rights in commercially valuable resources on their lands, but only in Cape York. Were the Wild Rivers Bill passed into law we would see a fundamental change in the current workings of land rights and native title laws in Australia, the attachment of resource rights to native title lands to an extent that exceeds the current-best case situation in the Northern Territory. While the proposal contained in the Wild Rivers Bill makes good economic sense, attention seems focused on the wrong law: it is the Commonwealth Native Title Act that needs to be amended to confer either full rights in all resources where claims have succeeded; or as a second best provide the free prior informed consent provisions as currently exist under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act to native title parties.
It is timely for the Australian state to address two issues: the State and Territory inequities that have resulted from different land rights regimes enacted at different times; and the limitations inherent in the Native Title Act statutory framework in terms of supplementing native title determinations with resource rights to assist Indigenous economic development. If the federal native title regime were stronger, the need to override State laws would be eliminated.
A version of this Topical Issue was provided as a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee’s Inquiry into the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 [No. 2], March 2010.