A coalition of concerned leaders and organisations has called on the NSW government to take urgent action to rectify out-of-date fisheries laws that result in unjust prosecutions of Aboriginal fishers.
The call comes after the NSW Legislative Council passed a resolution last week supporting Aboriginal cultural fishing and calling for a review of all fines and prosecutions.
This follows revelations that Aboriginal people in NSW account for four out of five jail sentences for these offences.
The motion was introduced by Labor MLC Michael Veitch and gained cross-party support.
If implemented by the government, genuine cultural fishing would be formally recognised by law in NSW and no longer deemed illegal under the Fisheries Management Act.
The Legislative Council acknowledged that the 1992 Mabo High Court decision held that the common law of Australia recognises a form of native title and an entitlement of First Peoples to traditional lands and waters.
The NSW Parliament in 2009 amended the Act to recognise cultural fishing but the amendment, known as section 21AA, 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.
The Legislative Council has also commenced a parliamentary inquiry into why the 21AA was not allowed to commence and the impact on the community of failing to do so.
The inquiry will be conducted by the Committee for Regional NSW, Water and Agriculture.
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