LETTER: Scales of justice tipped in favour of Native Title claimants

Sir – In a decision that turns the 16-year-old native title dispute resolution system on its head, landowners will soon be left high and dry – forced to fund their own representation in native title disputes, while claimants will continue to be funded by taxpayers.

 

As of 1 January 2013, the Gillard government will only fund the costs of claimants in native title disputes, leaving landholders to fend for themselves and potentially causing lengthy delays, huge costs and confusion.

 

In just a few weeks the federal government will abandon the principle of equality and fairness that is currently provided under section 213A of the Native Title Act 1993. This clause currently provides legal funding assistance for both claimants and respondents in native title cases.

But in a mean, penny-pinching bid to save a lousy $2 million over two years, federal Labor’s heavy and ham-fisted mitts are about to tilt the scales of justice in favour of one side over another by only providing funding to help those lodging claims.

 

Striking a fair balance in resolving native title disputes is essential. As things stand, claims are generally assessed and resolved within two years in a spirit of goodwill without financial penalty to either party. The last thing any of us want is for a landowner to lose a native title dispute because the costs of testing claims are prohibitive for them.

 

In Question Time yesterday the Prime Minister dismissively asserted that ‘commercially viable enterprises’ did not need assistance. But this change threatens to seriously undermine the course of justice in native title cases by skewing the ability to pursue legal avenues. It could also lead to vexatious claims being made in the hope that landholders simply cannot afford to defend themselves.
Warren Truss

The Nationals

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