Native title laws face court challenge

Issue 

Native title laws face court challenge

By Bill Mason

BRISBANE — New native title laws, tabled by Queensland Labor Premier Peter Beattie in state parliament on October 21, are to be challenged in the Federal Court. The Kullilli community plans action against the legislation's exemption of mineral exploration from Aboriginal communities' right to negotiate developments on their land.

The Kullilli Aboriginal community says exemptions for mineral exploration could result in the desecration of sacred sites. Kullilli spokesperson Steve Hagan said on October 25 that burial sites could be "bulldozed by some contractor who is unaware of sites of significance."

Hagan said Aborigines still have common law rights and would go to court to defend them.

"If [the government is] giving more rights to mining companies over Aborigines, then there is a question of whether their actions are discriminatory", he said.

Under the legislation, Aboriginal groups retain a restricted right to negotiate on pastoral leases. A Queensland Native Title Tribunal will be established to arbitrate in cases where a negotiated settlement cannot be reached.

Meanwhile, mining company Santos has withdrawn an invitation to independent MP Peter Wellington to visit its west Queensland mining operations to examine the impact of mining exploration on Aboriginal sacred sites.

The trip had been organised by the Kullilli people in consultation with Santos executives. Steve Hagan said the Kullilli people suspected that the tour was cancelled because of pressure from other mining companies.

Wellington's vote is crucial to the passage of the state native title legislation. In place of the Santos visit, Wellington has accepted an invitation, issued by the Quandamooka Aboriginal people, to inspect culturally sensitive sites on North Stradbroke Island.