Court dismisses application for stay on native title claim
By Tara Ravens,www.nit.com.au
March 17, 2007
DARWIN, March 17, 2007: The Federal Court has dismissed an application by the NT government for a stay of orders over a landmark native title claim for part of Australia’s northern coast.
The government and the NT Seafood Council are fighting a unanimous decision by three judges granting local Aboriginal people exclusive access to the Blue Mud Bay region in north-east Arnhem Land.
The ruling has the potential to affect up to 80 per cent of the Northern Territory coast and could have huge implications for commercial fishing.
The NT government, which is appealing the decision to the High Court, on Friday lost an application for a stay of orders while all legal avenues are exhausted.
NT Attorney-General Syd Stirling said he was disappointed with the ruling but working to ensure a positive outcome for all parties involved.
“We are holding discussions with all parties to deliver a stable operating environment for fishermen and traditional owners alike until the issues are resolved via an appeal to the High Court,” he said.
He said all sides were keen to work out a temporary solution while the legal process runs its course.
“The solutions being discussed will work to ensure a clear position for commercial fishing and also to provide working arrangements for recreational fishing.”
But, he warned, all fishers needed to be aware the decision impacted on intertidal zones abutting Aboriginal land granted under the Commonwealth Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act in the Blue Mud Bay region.
The court order means local Aboriginal people can decide who enters waters near the coastline to fish, with the decision affecting commercial licences for barramundi, mud crabs and trepang operators.
When the decision was handed down last week, Northern Land Council (NLC) chairman Norman Fry declared it a “landmark day for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory”.
Mr Fry later said interim licences would be issued under the Land Rights Act so fishing could continue.
“The issue of interim licences is necessary to preserve the status quo, given the Federal Court’s decision today that it has no power to suspend its decision in the recent Blue Mud Bay case,” Mr Fry said.
The licences, which will be issued next week, will expire after the High Court determines any appeal.
“(They) will automatically be issued to all current commercial operators,” Mr Fry said.
“The good faith shown by the NLC, and all parties, in promptly issuing interim licences means that the public can be confident that success in the High Court will lead to a win-win outcome – with commercial fishing continuing to prosper with the involvement of traditional owners.”
Chairman of the NT Seafood Council, Rob Fish, said the ruling would not put an end to fishing in the region.
“The Seafood Council is in discussions with the Northern Territory government and the NLC to endeavour to put in place arrangements to allow our members to continue to undertake appropriately regulated fishing activities in the affected waters while the appeal is pursued in the High Court,” Mr Fish said.
“We will also take every step to ensure the supply of wild catch fish to residents of the Northern Territory and our export markets does not suffer.”
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