SW native title deal at risk

USMAN AZADSouth Western Times
SW native title deal at risk
Camera IconSW native title deal at risk Credit: South Western Times

The State Government’s $1.3 billion native title deal and pledge to officially recognise Noongars as traditional owners of the land is under threat from opposition among South West Aboriginals.

Premier Colin Barnett says each of the six Noongar groups chasing native title in court must agree to the deal or it will not go ahead.

The deal includes setting up an Aboriginal trust which will be given up to 300,000ha of crown land and funding of $600 million over 12 years.

However, the South Western Times can reveal that there is dissent from within the Gnaala Karla Booja native title claim, which covers an area stretching from Perth to just south of Bunbury and east of Narrogin.

Four prominent Aboriginal people who have cultural links to Gnaala Karla Booja interviewed by the Times are divided on whether to support the deal.

Two registered claimants for the Gnaala Karla Booja land, Joe Northover, of Collie, and Peter Michael, of Bunbury, oppose the deal.

Mr Northover said he could not see himself giving up his native title rights.

“I don’t believe I can be convinced (to agree to the deal) totally because native title is our inheritance, ” he said.

“That is who we are. It is not our place to sign it away.”

However, Bunbury elder Dennis Jetta said he agreed to the deal and said it would help to develop the future generation of Noongars.

“If we don’t agree (to the deal) we go back to court for the next 20 years, ” he said.

Ted Hart, who helped to negotiate the deal with the Government, said many people opposed the plan until they were informed about the benefits.

The State Government has given the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council six months to get agreements from each of the groups.

Council chief executive officer Glen Kelly said each of the claim groups would hold authorisation meetings, which could be attended by descendents of the traditional owners of the area.

More than 50 per cent of those who attended needed to vote in favour of the deal for it to be passed.

Mr Kelly said a lot of people did not appreciate “how big of a victory” it was to have the deal.

“This (deal) is never ever going to be matched in Australia, ” he said.

“This is the high water mark for native title in Australia.”

Mr Barnett said the State trusted the SWALSC and Aboriginal elders would communicate widely so Noongars could make informed decisions.

He said the deal was the “best offer” the Sate could provide to improve Noongar welfare.

As part of the deal, the State Government has promised to introduce a Bill which will recognise Noongars as the traditional owners of the South West.

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