The New South Wales Government parliamentary inquiry examining the 13-year-delay in commencing legislation to protect Indigenous cultural fishing has handed down its findings.
In 2009 the Fisheries Management Act was amended by the NSW Government to acknowledge Aboriginal people's unique cultural connection to sea and inland waters and to protect and promote Aboriginal cultural fishing. A special provision, section 21AA, was also introduced which was intended to protect Aboriginal people from compliance actions for fishing offences if they were undertaking cultural fishing. The Chair's forward sums it up. "Thirteen years later, section 21AA has still not been commenced, and extraordinarily, the will of the Parliament has failed to take effect."
The committee also found compliance activity and prosecutions against Indigenous people for practising cultural fishing were "unacceptable and creating perverse outcomes" that were inconsistent with the government's own Closing the Gap targets.
During the inquiry, Indigenous fishers detailed their experiences of targeting and harassment by compliance officers on the NSW South Coast. In response to that evidence, the report recommended the NSW DPI immediately cease all surveillance and prosecutions of Aboriginal cultural fishers. NSWCCL made a submission to the inquiry where we outlined the impact on the fundamental human rights of South Coast Aboriginal People.
However, in recent weeks the NSW government introduced a new amendment to the Fisheries Management Act to clarify the search and seizure powers of fisheries enforcement officers. It beggars belief. Aboriginal people make up 4 per cent of people living on the South Coast, but account for 80 per cent of jail terms for fisheries offences since 2009. Indigenous leaders in New South Wales have condemned this ammendment which will further criminalise Aboriginal people’s cultural rights to fish and create a situation where the rates of First Nations incarceration continues to rise.
For more information, read the legislative council's report.