The new Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, released his first Native Title Report on 11 February 2011. The report centres on building relationships and promoting effective engagement between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Mr Gooda confirms that his overarching priority as Social Justice Commissioner is to advance the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 September 2007 (formally supported by Australia on 3 April 2009) and calls for a national strategy to ensure its full implementation. This Declaration is a guiding framework for Mr Gooda’s work in progressing the following critical themes:
(a) building an understanding of, and respect for, Aboriginal rights to their lands, territories and resources throughout Australia;
(b) creating a just and fair native title system through law and policy reform;
(c) promoting effective engagement between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including through reaching just and fair agreements and through consultation, cooperation, and free, prior and informed and consent; and
(d) enhancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander capacity to realise social, cultural and economic development aspirations, for which native title provides significant leverage.
Mr Gooda critiques various recent Government initiatives to approve agreement making in the native title system and recommends more holistic changes that redress the unequal bargaining position weighing heavily in favour of non-indigenous interests. The Social Justice Commissioner also highlights the State’s failure to take action to address the most significant obstacles within the native title system to the full realisation of Aboriginal rights, such as the onerous burden of proving native title and the injustices of extinguishment. He proposes an independent inquiry to review the operation of the native title system and explore options for reform in alignment with international human rights standards.