The Full Council of the Northern Land Council has conditionally approved a six-month extension of the waiver of the need for permits to access the Aboriginal-owned intertidal zone. The waiver is set to expire on 31 December 2018.
The extension is dependent on the Northern Territory Government’s delivering a satisfactory response by early December to a request by the NLC that the Government agree to negotiate a comprehensive and final settlement of matters affecting fishing in the intertidal zone.
In June, the NLC presented to the Government a wide-ranging submission which proposed ways for Aboriginal people to participate in the commercial fishing industry and have a real role in management of fisheries, and for recognition of sea country as it is understood by Aboriginal people.
In a letter sent on 9 October, mindful of the Full Council meeting at Jabiru, the NLC warned the Government of “substantial negative consequences that would flow from the waiver expiry”.
The NLC wrote to the Minister for Primary Industry, Ken Vowles: “In summary, in the absence of an agreed process to resolve Blue Mud Bay and sea country comprehensively, there is a likelihood that large areas of the Northern Territory coastline which are currently open to recreational and commercial fishers will be closed, and default permitting processes might not be well-received.”
The letter asked the Government to respond to the NLC’s request to negotiate a comprehensive settlement by 5 November. The Government did not respond until last Friday afternoon (9 November). NLC CEO Joe Morrison said the response did not adequately address the NLCs proposal for a negotiated settlement.
“Although Minister Vowles did say that his Government was keen to negotiate in good faith to increase the participation of Traditional Owners in both management and commercial activities relating to fishing, his letter did not address the specifics of our submission,” Mr Morrison said.
“Mr Vowles addressed the Full Council meeting this morning, but members were disappointed that he did not add anything of substance.”
After Mr Vowles’ attendance, the Full Council resolved to extend the permit waiver for six months, on condition that the Government provided a “satisfactory and comprehensive” response for consideration by the next meeting of the NLC’s Executive Council and Sea Country Working Group on 4 December.
If the Executive Council and the Sea Country Working Group are not satisfied with the Government’s response, the permit waiver will cease on 31 December.
Further, if the waiver was to cease, the Full Council recommended to all Traditional Owners that no access permits or agreements to allow recreational or commercial fishing be issued in relation to Aboriginal intertidal waters until the next Full Council meeting in May 2019.
“The High Court’s Blue Mud Bay decision came down more than 10 years ago. Aboriginal Traditional Owners are deeply frustrated that little progress has been made since then, and they’ve made it plain to us that they want real benefits from that decision,” Mr Morrison said.
“Mr Vowles supports our aspirations. I hope that he can convince his Cabinet colleagues to support his agenda.”
NLC contact: Murray McLaughlin 0429 153 363