The Victorian Traditional Owners Land Justice Group (LJG) is continuing a long tradition of traditional owner activism and working together for land justice in Victoria.
Report of the Steering Committee for the Development of a Victorian Native Title Settlement Framework.
"Land Justice is an absolute priority. Aboriginal people need to be recognised for who they are and the country they belong to"
Sandra Onus, LJG Negotiator, Steering Committee
"Aboriginal people they base their future, their future generations, all on land because land is connected with their old existence. Land and people can't be separate, they're all one."
Len Clarke, LJG Co-Chair
"Land justice in Victoria is very important. The first part of saying sorry is recognising that this once was and is Aboriginal land."
Annette Xiberras, LJG Co-Chair
"It was a big relief when it was made known that the Native Title Settlement Framework had been accepted by the Victorian Government... Prior to the Framework, a lot of my Elders were expressing a desire to look at ways around the native title process, away from the courts, to achieve better outcomes."
Mick Harding, LJG Negotiator, Steering Committee
The Victorian Government and the Victorian Traditional Owners Land Justice Group have spent the last four years negotiating to jointly develop a Victorian Native Title Settlement Framework. The Settlement Framework was developed by a Steering Committee comprised of State Government and Traditional Owner representatives. The Framework aims to provide a more streamlined approach to settling native title claims by setting out what could be included in a settlement package, how negotiations could be conducted and what conditions the State would require to be met by groups to enter into negotiations about a package.
The Native Title Settlement Framework will enable individual groups to negotiate their agreements with government to achieve the following:
View the Traditional Owner Settlement Bill 2010.
Read the Traditional Owner Settlement Bill 2010 Explanatory Memorandum.
To read frequently asked questions about the Bill, please visit the Department of Justice website.
Settlement Framework History
"We are the First Australians and need to be, in every aspect, respected. And if we are respected and acknowledged for our place in current society then we will be able to match it with any other group of people."
Mick Harding, LJG Negotiator, Steering Committee
"What's important is creating job opportunities for our young people's future, certainly for more people; and working in a landscape, in a natural environment, and the opportunity to benefit from that."
Albert Mullet, LJG Negotiator, Steering Committee
"We think it's important for Government to be willing to give recognition and strengthening in lots of areas... signage on roads indicating traditional country, cultural centres and keeping places, protocol at public events, curriculum modules in schools and public monuments to Indigenous people and language preservation and restoration projects. As we are the original owners of this land and that we have been dispossessed from our traditional land."
Bobby Nicholls, LJG Co-chair
"We're also mindful of the importance of restorative justice through compensation or reparation because traditional owners will need resources to establish their base and to operate as viable organisations or bodies to represent their traditional owner members."
Graham Atkinson, LJG Co-chair
It has taken many years of hard work to reach the point that we are now at, with a Bill being considered by the Victorian Parliament.
In 2006, the Land Justice Group first approached the State Government seeking to find a faster and fairer way to resolve native title and work towards land justice.
In 2008, a Steering Committee was formed. The Steering Committee, which developed the final report to the State Government, was independently chaired by Professor Mick Dodson, and reported to State Cabinet and the Land Justice Group.
The first meeting of the Steering Committee was held on 31st March 2008. This committee met every six weeks throughout the rest of 2008 to negotiate the Framework.
The Steering Committee was made up of:
Steering Committee members and chair.
Absent: Albert Mullet and Sandra Onus.
Photographer: Daniel Mendelbaum of Daniel M Photo-Graphics"
What happened to existing native title claims while these Steering Committee discussions took place?
The Steering Committee looked at a new Framework of State policy regarding native title rights and other land justice issues. It did not talk about changes to any federal legislation like the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). During the Steering Committee discussions all existing native title claims continued to run as they are now. These claims are legal claims in the Federal Court of Australia and the Applicants (traditional owners), the State and other parties continued to have obligations to mediate these claims and follow any Federal Court orders.
How have Steering Committee discussions impacted on future claims and negotiations?
The Steering Committee worked to develop alternative settlement options. The new Framework will now set out another path to land justice that groups could choose to take. It will still involve identifying the right people to speak for country and negotiating with the State. The aim is to provide more options in either a native title claim settlement package or an alternative settlement. Developing a new State Framework presents a unique opportunity that will allow groups to negotiate more beneficial outcomes than are currently possible. Nothing decided by the Steering Committee will affect any traditional owner group without their consent. It will only, if successful, create other options for the settlement of land issues. Traditional owner groups will not be obliged to take up the options if they don't wish to.
"We've got one chance... let's all stick together, we're all marching down the same road. We all hope to get to the destination at the same time and that is - some type of land justice recognition to our people that have missed out over the centuries and it's about time that we got recognised so let's all stick together."
Len Clarke, LJG Co-Chair, speaking about the Steering Committee process
What are the main challenges and opportunities?
The challenge for the Indigenous Steering Committee members and the Land Justice Group is to go as far as possible in this election cycle in delivering workable land justice opportunities. However, the Land Justice Group recognises that the outcomes of this process may not be enough for a lot of traditional owners. The struggle for land justice and reparations will continue well beyond the introduction of a new framework. This Steering Committee process is the first time in many years that the State has committed to a genuine process of overhauling its policy and involving traditional owners in its decision making. Negotiating with the State will require that some compromises be made. The Land Justice Group will work very hard to keep all traditional owners informed as much as possible, keeping focus on the shared vision of achieving land justice across Victoria, even when there are differences of opinion on how best to achieve it.
"I believe that the Steering Committee process is a good process. I believe there is a real genuineness about an outcome that will be beneficial to all. I know that it is not going to suit everybody, but we'll never be 100 percent correct - we'll never get it right on both sides of the fence but at least we're trying and I believe out of this there will be real outcomes that will truly benefit people in Victoria in a more equal way than the native title legislation dictates to us ...."
Sandra Onus, LJG Negotiator
How can I get involved?
The Land Justice Group and its representatives on the Steering Committee have been committed to involving all traditional owners in finding solutions and are also very interested in what priority traditional owners wish to give to particular issues. The Steering Committee Framework discussions have been a way for Victorian traditional owners to have direct input into State policy. NTSV will be holding consultation meetings with tradtional owners about the Framework in coming months.
Why were Steering Committee negotiations confidential?
In developing the new Framework consideration and debate has been required about difficult issues. The complexity of the issues, in terms of acknowledging the past and present situation and the aspirations for the future, has required creative thinking and frank and open discussions between the Steering Committee members. Privacy and confidentiality has helped promote more honest discussion about concerns, interests and options. Confidentiality is a standard feature of mediation and other dispute resolution. The State, the Land Justice Group and NTSV agreed to confidentiality. However now Cabinet have accepted the Report, it is publicly available.
How can I get more information?
You can contact any members of the Land Justice Group, or the secretariat.
You can contact the CEO of NTSV or any of the lawyers working with you on your native title claim.
We encourage you to attend your claimant group meetings, at which LJG business is a regular agenda item.
The Land Justice Group will be putting out regular newsletters so make sure you're on the mailing list.
Frequently asked questions:
Who makes final decisions about the State native title framework?
The Victorian Premier and the Cabinet (which is made up of all Ministers) will ultimately make the final decisions about what Victorian State policy will be. The Steering Committee process has been the Government's way of working collaboratively with traditional owners of Victoria to develop policy.
Who supported and advised the Steering Committee?
The Steering Committee received technical legal and policy advice from Working Groups. Each Working Group had staff from the relevant State departments, NTSV staff and expert consultants engaged to advise the State Government and the Land Justice Group. The Working Groups took direction from the Steering Committee.
Will the State Government be listening to non-Indigenous groups during the Framework process?
One of the responsibilities of the Steering Committee is to consider when and how best to engage with 'third party interests' - that is, individuals or organisations that have a legal interest in State-owned land such as local government, miners and public infrastructure providers.
Is the Aboriginal Heritage Council involved?
The Council is being consulted about the cultural heritage issues and how its work will fit in with the new Framework.
What were the Steering Committee representatives' obligations?
Both Government and traditional owner Steering Committee members agreed to a Statement of Expectations. Expectations related to confidentiality, conflict of interest, preparation for, and behaviour at, meetings and a protocol regarding observers at meetings.
Who did the LJG negotiators speak for?
The Land Justice Group negotiators have been there to represent the Land Justice Group. There have not been any negotiations about specific areas of land or benefits for specific individuals, families or groups. Everything being discussed relates to how native title land justice settlements could work across all of Victoria.
"What the individual traditional owner groups do with those principles or parameters that will be set out in the framework is their responsibility."
Graham Atkinson, LJG Co-Chair
How were negotiators chosen?
The negotiators (the LJG's five Steering Committee representatives) were nominated by the full LJG at their meeting in September 2007. Those people who were nominated were available to commit a significant amount of time to the negotiations including reading papers, attending meetings, reporting back, as well as having had experience with negotiating with government.
What negotiation experience do the five Steering Committee representatives have?
All five Steering Committee representatives from the Land Justice Group have had a lot of experience as negotiators, and are supported by the rest of the Land Justice Group. They were also prepared and assisted by Barrister David Yarrow who is an experienced negotiator working throughout Australia with traditional owner groups. Negotiators had the support of other staff and consultants at NTSV as well.