Strengthening Traditional Owner Land Rights In Victoria

The Andrews Labor Government has reaffirmed its commitment to self-determination with a review of the legislation that recognises Traditional Owner land rights.

Attorney-General Jill Hennessy joined Traditional Owners to launch the First Principles Review, which will seek to make improvements to the Traditional Owner Settlement Act.

The Review, which will be undertaken in partnership with Traditional Owners, will look for opportunities to remove bureaucratic obstacles that prevent Traditional Owners from realising the full benefit of their native title settlements.

It will also look at whether Traditional Owners are receiving adequate compensation in settlement agreements, including compensation for cultural loss, in line with the High Court’s Timber Creek decision in 2019.

The first agreement under the Settlement Act was reached in October 2010 with the Gunaikurnai People of Gippsland. It was followed by agreements with the Dja Dja Wurrung People of mid-northern Victoria in 2013 and more recently with the Taungurung People in 2018.

Combined, the three agreements cover more than six million hectares of the state and include the transfer of 25 parks and reserves as Aboriginal title to the three Traditional Owner corporations, to be jointly managed by the Traditional Owner corporations and the State.

The Government is negotiating towards settlements with several other Traditional Owner groups and is committed to reaching agreements with these remaining groups promptly and fairly.

To support this commitment, the Labor Government has invested $4 million in new pre-settlement funding to five Traditional Owner corporations, to participate in negotiations, build their capacity, and respond to increasing demands on their services and knowledge, particularly in natural resource management.

The Settlement Act was developed in response to the limitations of the Native Title Act for heavily settled areas of the country, including large parts of Victoria, and was designed to deliver land justice for traditional owners in Victoria through out-of-court agreement making.

Under the Settlement Act, the Government’s agreements recognise the traditional owner group’s rights over government land, supporting traditional owners to jointly manage parks and natural resources, as well as providing an opportunity to use Government land for cultural purposes and to achieve economic development.

Quotes attributable to Attorney-General Jill Hennessy

“We are the only state to have worked with Traditional Owners on a comprehensive alternative to the Native Title Act – and this review will continue that strong collaboration.”

“This review will make sure Victorian law is up to date – to ensure we continue to lead the country on self-determination and as a demonstration of our commitment to the Treaty process.”

 Quote attributable to Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gavin Jennings

“It’s important we continuously work in collaboration with Traditional Owners to make sure our legislation is as practical and effective as possible for them.”

Quotes attributable to the First Principles Review Committee

“The committee welcomes this great opportunity for the State to act on the advice of Traditional Owners on the path to justice for Victoria’s First Peoples.”

“There’s a lot of hard work to be done, but we’re hopeful this review will deliver a fairer deal for Traditional Owners’ rights and interests.”

 “Victorian Traditional Owners have a cultural responsibility to continue taking a leading role in delivering positive outcomes on topics as diverse as Country, Culture, water, economic development and bushfire recovery.”