A coalition of concerned leaders and organisations has called on the NSW Government to take urgent action to prevent any more Aboriginal fishers being incarcerated or fined for exercising their Native Title rights.
Following revelations that 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, the NSW Legislative Council passed a resolution last week.
Raised by Labor MLC Michael Veitch, the motion supported Aboriginal cultural fishing and called for a review of all fines and prosecutions.
In 2009 the NSW Parliament amended the Fisheries Act to recognise cultural fishing but the amendment has never came into force.
The Legislative Council called on the Government to commence these provisions without delay and without any further regulation, and for all fines and prosecutions to be reviewed.
A parliamentary inquiry into why the amendment was not allowed to commence and the impact on the community of failing to do so has also commenced.
Yuin Nation Elder Wally Stewart said: “The NSW Aboriginal Fishing Rights Group has been lobbying NSW government for over 10 years to recognise south coast people’s cultural fishing rights, and it has fallen on deaf ears.
“The amount of damage that NSW Fisheries has done to our communities on the South Coast of NSW is appalling.
“It’s like they deliberately set out to destroy our way of life, and our Culture practices that have been passed down from generation to generation.”
Jacqui Mumford, acting CEO of the Nature Conservation Council, said: “NCC urges the government to enforce this policy so Indigenous people can access their right to water and land without fear of being charged.
“Indigenous people are the original custodians of the land and have managed natural systems sustainably for tens of thousands of years."
Wamba Wamba and Yorta Yorta woman Ngarra Murray, Executive Lead of Oxfam Australia’s First Peoples Program, said the government response should also involve substantial initiatives to enable First Peoples fishers to obtain a share of commercial quotas so that they can carry out their traditional activities in a meaningful and sustainable manner.
“Without a program to engage First Peoples in the commercial industry in a meaningful way, the government’s efforts towards these communities will be mere tokenism.
“Commercial quotas were distributed when Aboriginal people were not even recognised as citizens of this country, and the ongoing profits flowing to non-Indigenous owners are another form of dispossession and marginalisation for First Peoples.”
Pauline Wright, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said: “We fully support Labor MLC Michael Veitch’s motion. It is inexplicable that this amendment hasn’t been put into effect after more than a decade.
“First Nations people must be allowed to exercise their traditional rights to fish safely and without fear of criminal charges.”
Media spokesperson: Yuin Nation Elder Wally Stewart
Media contact: James Tremain | 0419 272 254
- NCC media release 2 Dec '21
- Joint media release: NSW Government must suspend prosecutions of Aboriginal cultural fishers NSWCCL 20 Oct '21
- Local NSW fishermen are being prosecuted under State law contrary to their Native Title rights NSWCCL 15 Sept '21