The National Native Title Tribunal: Arbiter or “record keeper”?

by empathiser

Today I spent 40 minutes on the phone with the case manager for the three Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) registered with the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) relating to Adani’s North Galilee Basin Rail Project.
 
I was armed with the knowledge, passed on from an expert in this particular area, that the NNTT is not only a record keeper for native title agreements, it is also responsible for arbitration of many of the issues that might occur in negotiation processes such as those articulated by Carol Prior in 2 media stories from 2014 and 2016. There is at least one story currently somewhere in the NewsCorp pipeline in anticipation of the outcomes from the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) examination into Adani dealings with the Juru Indigenous corporation Kyburra Munda Yalga Aboriginal Corporation. Since my starting assumption is that high quality publicly available information is the last line of defence for black fellas who’ve been excluded from the negotiating and voting process, I was prepared to test the NNTT information giving culture. My lengthy conversation with the NNTT case manager involved an exchange of assertions about the role and function of the organisation. Each time the case manager asserted that the organisation was a “record keeper” I responded with the assertion that through the information architecture embedded in the digital records it provides along with it’s actual functions in arbitration it serves to limit access to information and justice to traditional owners.   
 
Between the NNTT and ORIC lies the responsibility for regulating the activity of Indigenous corporations, mining companies, and their representatives. There are difficult to interpret limits on how much information is made publicly available, and when it comes to information that can support an argument that a mining company has not negotiated in good faith, there’s scarce little published. We are expected to accept the word of the NNTT that the representatives of Indigenous corporations have satisfied all the requirements under the Native Title Act, Section 24 to ensure that traditional owners with an interest in a native title claim or determination are made aware of negotiations and meetings. 
 
In attempting to build a timeline to support my analysis of various Queensland government RTI documents I’ve discovered that I need to send a request letter to the NNTT to explain the purpose for my request for information regarding submission dates, and dates of meetings with native title holders and traditional owners. The NNTT will then give consideration to my request. The information I unsuccessfully requested today from the NNTT case manager, dates for submission of ILUA documents by 3 different Indigenous corporations, could not be categorised as either privileged or available for the public upon request. I don’t see how my purpose in seeking the information I am requesting should have any impact on how the NNTT interprets the Native Title Act with respect to particular pieces of information about the dates certain documents were created. The NNTT is an organisation that by virtue of it’s nature – both arbiter and record keeper – should be able to assess the status of a record it is keeping and make appropriate decisions accordingly. 
I was advised that I should speak with the legal firms listed each applicant or Indigenous corporation, or check the public record for notifications. The later option will likely require exhaustive research involving listings of events in local papers and specialist media.
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