Indigenous Law Bulletin
Most of the provisions of the Native Title Amendment Act 1998 (Cth) came into force on September 30. The Amendments introduce a new tougher registration test for native title applications and provisions validating a wide range of land uses and alterations in land tenures made before 23 December 1996, the date of the Wik decision. The practical effect of these provisions is to severely limit native title applicants' right to negotiate. Under the Amendments, all native title representative bodies must also re-apply for the right to represent native title claimants.
The Amendments also allow States and Territories to introduce complementary native title legislative regimes. The second instalment of the Queensland Government's response to the NTAA was tabled in the Queensland parliament on 21 October (Native Title (Queensland) State Provisions Amendment Bill (No.2) 1998). The Bill, which deals with mineral exploration and mining, received a mixed response from Indigenous interests. The comprehensive Western Australian Bills were introduced into State Parliament on 14 October (Titles Validation Amendment Bill 1998, Western Australian Native Title (State Provisions) Bill 1998, Acts Amendment (Land Administration, Mining and Petroleum) Bill 1998). Although Premier Richard Court indicated he would like the Bills passed by Christmas, this may be overly optimistic, since his Liberal-National Party Government does not have a majority in the Legislative Assembly and the Labor Party Opposition has moved a long list of amendments. At the time of writing (end of October) Victoria and South Australia had not tabled their validation confirmation of extinguishment legislation but were well advanced in drafting. The New South Wales Parliament passed the Native Title Amendment Act 1998 (NSW) on September 23. This Act extinguishes native title in eastern and central New South Wales on all freehold, residential leases, commercial leases and' leases for; community purposes. It will be left to the Courts to decide whether native title can co-exist on the pastoral leases in the State's vest.
The' division of ministerial responsibility in the nets Howard Cabinet means that the Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, will be the Commonwealth Minister responsible for approving some aspects of State and Territory schemes. The Queensland and Northern Territory alternative schemes will probably be the first to receive Commonwealth Ministerial consideration.
A national audit of native title agreements in September showed that more than 1,200 agreements have so far been made between miners, pastoralists, indigenous groups, industry bodies and government.
On October 3, John Howard's Liberal National Party Coalition was returned to office in the Federal election. Aden Ridgeway, former executive director of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, won a New South Wales Senate seat against One Nation's David Oldfield. He is the first Aboriginal person from New South Wales to be elected to Federal Parliament.
During a campaign debate on 27 September, Prime Minister Howard pledged to work towards a document of understanding with Aboriginal people by 2001. He also said that any new preamble to the Australian Constitution would have to mention Indigenous people. Mr Howard ruled out the idea of a treaty with Indigenous people on the grounds that this would imply that there were two nations within Australia. In his election victory speech, the Prime Minister renewed his commitment to the reconciliation process, but also admitted lie had made mistakes in his handling of Aboriginal affairs during his first term of office, including at last year's National Reconciliation Convention.
Mr Howard has appointed Mr Phillip Ruddock as Minister for Reconciliation, but many Aboriginal leaders feel that the government's commitment to reconciliation has been compromised by the reappointment of Senator Herron as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.
The University of Technology in Sydney awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws to Mick Dodson and Sir Ronald Wilson on 2 October for their work on Bringing them Home, the Report on the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families.