The Registration Test
The 1998 amendments to the Native Title Act substantially altered the test for registration of native title applications. The separation of lodgment with the Federal Court from registration with the Native Title Tribunal clearly identify the two different processes that applicants must now go through in the early stages of the native title determination process. All applications lodged to date, and from here forward, will come to be considered under the new registration test. The requirements for entry onto the register have become more onerous in order to restrict access to the benefits that accrue to registered applicants. These benefits include the right to negotiate, the right to oppose non-claimant applications over the same area, the confirmation of pastoral lease access rights, and other procedural rights. However, if a claim fails the registration test it may still proceed through the determination processes. The requirements of the registration have sped up the process in some regions for the rationalisation of claims.
The pressure of meeting the requirements of this new test is focusing the attention of many applicants on sorting out their differences. This will ultimately make native title negotiations a lot easier for miners, pastoralists, the State Government and Indigenous groups and should be encouraged.
For example, in the Goldfields region of Western Australia, the proliferation of small claims has been significantly reduced. In one case, 20 native title applications in the North East Goldfields, representing 28 percent of all claims in the Goldfields, united to form a single native title application known as the Wongatha claim (NNTT PR99/5 22/1/99). Under the new test the benefits of coming together to remove overlapping boundaries has seen the withdrawal of many smaller claims to be collapsed into a single larger claim. This kind of cooperation had been in process, with encouragement from the Tribunal and resource developers, in order to simplify the determination process and other negotiation processes under the Native Title Act.
Keywords: determinations, Federal Court of Australia, National Native Title Tribunal, Native Title Act (1993), Native Title Amendment Act, 1998, Native Title Amendment Bill, native title claim, Wongatha claim, 1998
Author: Strelein, Lisa