Farmers welcome Coalition pledge to restore Native Title funding

Beef Central, 28/08/2013

Australia's peak farmer representative group has welcomed a Coalition pledge to reinstate funding assistance for respondents to native title claims if it wins Government.

The Labor Government cut assistance to pastoral respondents in native title claims on January 1 this year, but left assistance for claimants intact.

The Government defended the move as a necessary cost cutting measure, saying rural landholders, as commercially viable enterprises, had the resources to fund their own defences.

Funding assistance for pastoral respondents had never amounted to more than $1.8m in a single year, while annual funding for claimants had totalled $6m.

At the time of the cuts landholder groups argued that federal assistance for pastoral respondents was a small price for the Government to pay to progress a native title process that was gradually gaining momentum and harbouring a strong spirit of good will on both sides.

After years of slow progress, eight resolutions were achieved last year, and a further 17 were expected to be finalised this year, but without funding assistance, rural groups said the entire process was at serious risk of collapsing.

The National Farmers Federation, which had called for both the Government and Coalition to restore funding support for funding to native title respondents, welcomed the Coalition's announcement to reinstate funding should it be elected.

NFF CEO Matt Linnegar said respondents should have equal access to justice as claimants in the native title process.

“Last year, the Federal Government decided to cut funding to native title respondents but continue funding to claimants, creating an imbalance in the system and inequality between the treatment of claimants and respondents,” Mr Linnegar said.

“This decision severely jeopardised the goodwill of respondents, primarily farmers and landholders, in the native title process in favour of Government cost cutting.

“Disappointingly for all parties, it also meant that the native title process was disrupted, with Courts having to deal with an increase in the number of self-represented farmers or legal representatives for a host of individuals – as opposed to the previous system where one lawyer and one Native Title Officer, funded by the Federal Government, represented all of the pastoral respondents in one claim.

“Since this time, the NFF and our members have strongly advocated for the reinstatement of funding for respondents to the tune of $2.2 million – hardly a vast sum for the Government, yet vital funds for the more than 1000 respondents still to have their native title cases heard.

“With less than two years left to run in native title cases, and with cases still ongoing, the reinstatement of respondent funding promised by the Coalition would come at a critical time.

“We welcome the promise made by the Coalition to reinstate the funding – ensuring a return to a fair and equitable native title system – and will work closely with the party if elected to ensure this is enacted quickly."



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