Recent recognition by industry experts

Throughout 2023 and to start 2024, MPS Law has continued to be recognised by industry experts.

In February 2023, MPS Law Principal Michael Pagsanjan was recognised as a leading lawyer in Doyle’s Guide, with MPS Law Senior Lawyer Reade Allison recognised as a native title rising star. 

In May 2023, MPS Law Special Counsel Georgina Reid, along with Reade Allison, presented to industry experts and colleagues on “Ethical Negotiation of Indigenous Land Use Agreements” at a Legalwise conference.

In August 2023, Michael was recognised as the native title partner of the year in the Lawyers Weekly Partner of the Year Awards. Michael was also a finalist in the Pro Bono partner of the year category.

MPS Law was also a finalist for Boutique Law Firm of the Year for the 2023 Australian Law Awards. Michael was further recognised as a finalist for Managing Partner of the Year.

In December, Michael was ranked Band 1 as a Lawyer for Native Title: Traditional Owners by the Chambers Asia-Pacific Legal Guide 2024.

Also in December, Reade was shortlisted as a finalist in the Lawyers Weekly 30 under 30 awards.

In February 2024, MPS Law was recognised in Doyle’s Guide as a leading native title firm, with Michael also recogised as an industry leader. In addition, Georgina was listed as ‘recommended’, and Senior Lawyer Helen Orr was recognised as a native title rising star.

On behalf of MPS Law, Michael credits recognition to the hardworking team, supportive family and resilient clients.

MPS Law welcomed to new office by Kaurna

On 24 May 2022, friends and team members of MPS Law were welcomed to MPS Law’s new office by Kaurna elder Rosalind Coleman.

Mrs Coleman, on behalf of Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation, blessed and welcomed guests, powerfully explaining Kaurna’s forever lasting and special connection to the Adelaide region.  

MPS Law is pleased to have been formally welcomed to our new office by Kaurna. We also thank Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation for approving the use of Kaurna language throughout our office, as daily recognition of Kaurna as the traditional custodians of Adelaide.


2021 Year in Review: Native Title law and policy

Statistics (as at October 2021)

  • 162 outstanding native title claims
  • 14 current native title compensation claims
  • 1 active revised native title determination application
  • 539 determinations of native title, with 444 that native title exists.
  • act in accordance with the law; and
  • ensure their directors act professionally, responsibly and plan for the future.

Amendments to the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) and Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (Cth)

The Native Title Legislation Amendment Act 2021 (Cth) (the Amendment Act) came into effect on 25 March 2021.  The Amendment Act made amendments to the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (NTA) and the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (Cth) (CATSI Act). 

The aim of the amendments are to:

  • give native title claim groups greater flexibility to set their own internal processes
  • improve agreement-making and the native title claims resolution process, including following a native title determination
  • increase the accountability of prescribed body corporates (PBCs)

The Amendment Act was also in part a response to the decision of McGlade v Native Title Registrar ((2017) 251 FCR 172) and has the effect of validating Section 31 Deeds that may have been affected by that decision.  

As a result of the amendments, parties to Section 31 Deeds are now required to notify the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) about any ancillary agreements, although there is no requirement for a copy of the ancillary agreement itself to be provided.  The NNTT is also required to create a register to Section 31 Deeds, including a description of the agreement area, the parties and their contact details, the term of the agreement and whether or not there is an ancillary agreement.

Changes were also made in relation to historical extinguishment in ‘park areas’, defined in s 47C(3) as an area set aside or over which an interest is granted under a law of the Commonwealth or a State or Territory for the purpose of preserving the natural environment of the area.  The extinguishment of native title by the creation of the park area, and from any prior interests, is to be disregarded.

The amendments to the CATSI Act include a number of important changes for the management of Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC) entities.  These include:

  • Changes to the membership provisions to ensure that membership reflects the terms of the native title determination and so that refusing or cancelling a membership in a way that disadvantages a section of the native title group is prevented, and establishing a dispute resolution process
  • Changes to allow the NNTT to assist PBCs and common law native title holders to reach agreement on native title issues
  • Including a new ground for the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations to appoint a special administrator where there is a serious failure by a PBC to comply with its legislative obligations

High procedural standard for compensation applications

The Federal Court of Australia delivered decisions in two compensation applications on 11 March 2021 (Saunders on behalf of the Bigambul People v Queensland (No 2) [2021] FCA 190; Wharton on behalf of the Kooma People v Queensland (No 2) [2021] FCA 191).  These decisions have a significant impact on the preparation of future claims for compensation under the NTA.

Justice Rangiah struck out both claims for failing to fully identify each compensable act.  The applicants had included in their compensation application form that details of the compensable acts would be provided later, following the provision of relevant tenure material by the State. 

The Court took a strict approach to the requirements of a compensation application, finding that the application must specify the acts said to extinguish or impair native title rights and interests, for which the claim for compensation is based at the time of bringing the application.  This is so affected third parties can be duly notified and given the opportunity to understand how their interests may be affected by any determination of compensation.

The Court also found that the compensation application could not be subsequently amended to include tenure information provided by the State following an assessment of the relevant acts, because to do so would be contrary to s 64(1) of the NTA.  This section provides that a native title application cannot be amended to include areas of land or waters that were not part of the initial application. 

These decisions followed the High Court’s first decision on compensation under the NTA (Northern Territory v Griffiths (2019) 364 ALR 208).  In that decision, the High Court stated that the first step in the process of assessing compensation is to identify the compensable acts, then to identify the nature of the relevant traditional laws and customs, and then to assess the nature of the loss caused by the compensable acts. 

As a result of these decisions, claim groups must ensure that an application for compensation under the NTA sets out comprehensive detail about each act said to give rise to an entitlement to compensation.  Claimants cannot rely on the resources and expertise of the State in providing tenure information after the claim has been lodged. 

Both decisions have been appealed to the Full Court of the Federal Court.

Native Title Compensation Communique – Native Title Ministers’ Meeting

Ministers associated with and responsible for native title, from the Commonwealth, state, and territory governments, convened formally in October 2021. They met to discuss current native title issues, making the commitment to meet annually to ensure the progression of these issues.

The Ministers recognised the need for continuous collaboration on native title issues, noting the significance of native title moving towards a ‘post-determination’ landscape, with a greater focus on self-determination and supporting native title holders in managing their native title rights, and on the resolution of native title compensation.

The Ministers acknowledged the upcoming 30-year anniversary of the Mabo decision in June 2022, discussing how the native title system has progressed since that time. The Ministers noted also that native title has been determined over 41 percent of Australia’s landmass.

It was also observed that promoting reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples involves the prompt resolution of native title compensation liability. This also advances the support of the economic empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, encouraging their social, environment and cultural wellbeing.

With this consideration, the Ministers endorsed the National Guiding Principles for Native Title Compensation Agreement Making, with formal endorsement to follow. Whilst these principles are not binding, they confirm the support of all governments, using their best efforts to settle native title compensation matters through negotiation and agreement processes, rather than litigation. The supporting principles include:

  • Good faith negotiations
  • Consideration of the aspirations of native title parties; and
  • Consistency within and across jurisdictions in assessing, valuing, and resolving native title compensation.

The Ministers further approved the work of the Native Title Senior Officers Meeting – Compensation Working Group (Senior Officers Meeting), in creating these principles. They have endorsed the collaborative work of the group and encouraged the continuous work in sharing consistent approaches across all Australian jurisdictions. The Ministers called on the Senior Officers Meeting develop options that promote the most effective settlement of native title compensation claims, including the deliberation of funding arrangements to encourage the settlement of native title compensation claims, and to offer advice to ministers outlining options to improve funding availability to RNTBCs.


Juukan Gorge – Interim report

The destruction of a 46,000-year-old significant cultural site by Rio Tinto at Juukan Gorge in May 2020 was a terrible loss for the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples (PKKP) of the Pilbara region in Western Australia.  The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia released their interim report on 9 December 2020, titled Never Again: Inquiry into the destruction of 46,000 year old caves at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia

The terms of reference for this inquiry are broad reaching and include the effectiveness of State and Commonwealth cultural heritage legislation, how these laws might be improved to strengthen protection of cultural sites, and any other related matters.

The recommendations of the Interim Report include overhauling the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) to strengthen the legislation and allow Indigenous groups to have greater say in the decision-making about culturally significant sites and for the Commonwealth to play a greater role in ensuring that the standards of heritage protection are met nationally and reviewing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (Cth).

The final report was published on 18 October 2021.


Juukan Gorge – Final Report

The parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters has recommended new laws to protect thousands of Aboriginal sacred sites across the Country. The inquiry found the Juukan Gorge disaster could happen again because the legislation passed to protect cultural heritage has actually contributed to damage and destruction of it. The inquiry said that the actions of Rio Tinto were “inexcusable and an affront, not only to the PKKP but to all Australians”. The PKKP have also said that no amount of compensation will ever repay the hurt caused by the blast.

The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia made eight recommendations to protect heritage, including new laws for cultural heritage protection are to be developed with First Nations people. The committee has also recommended that the Commonwealth Government should consider mapping cultural heritage sites across the country, including sites that have already been destroyed. The report also recommended secret sites and objects should be hidden at the discretion of traditional owners.

The report said the Commonwealth should overrule decisions made under “inadequate” state or territory laws that could destroy sites of great cultural significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The committee also recommended changes to PBCs. The report has strongly recommended a new independent fund should be established for PBCs, but they need to be required to be more transparent

“The Committee heard concerning reports that some PBCs are not transparent in their decision-making with respect to their local community, resulting in decisions being taken to allow the destruction of cultural heritage sites.”

For further information, the full report is available at:


Native Title Report 2021

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar AO, is developing the Native Title Report for 2021. This report will be focussed on women’s voices and their stories about experiences in the native title system. The report is to be tabled in Federal Parliament and will inform the Government in its native title reform agenda as how to promote advocates for change in the native title sector.

The Social Justice Commissioner wishes to inform the report through:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with experience in the native title system, for example, those who are (or have been) native title claimants or holders, and those who are board members of PBCs, NTRBs and other Service Providers
  • people working in the native title space, including professionals with native title expertise, such as lawyers, anthropologists, heritage experts, archaeologists, genealogy experts, academics, etc.

The Social Justice Commissioner wants to hear about experiences of the native title system, not limited to:

  • experiences of the processes within the native title system
  • the way the native title system has (and has not) worked to deliver on the expectations of communities, and to deliver benefits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • the ways that communities have addressed the challenges presented by native title and
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s hopes and plans for the future of native title, including what needs to change and what that change should look like.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner will also be doing a small number of in-depth interviews with the women who have had vast experience in the native title system.

For more information on the survey, and to enter a submission or the survey, visit 


South Australia – Draft Aboriginal Representative Body Bill

The South Australian government has chosen not to pursue the treaty-making process which had been commenced by the previous state government. Instead, the state government has focussed on establishing a legislated Aboriginal voice to the state parliament.

To this end, the South Australian Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement has released the draft Aboriginal Representative Body Bill 2021 (the Draft Bill). The purpose of the Draft Bill is to provide Aboriginal South Australians with a voice to be heard by the state parliament, cabinet, authorities and other organisations.

To do this, the Draft Bill establishes an Aboriginal Representative Body (the Body), whose functions will include:

  • to ascertain the views of Aboriginal people on matters that affect them;
  • to provide advice on matters of state, regional or local significance to Aboriginal people’s social, spiritual and economic wellbeing; and
  • to provide advice to government on processes, policies and programs affecting Aboriginal persons.

The Body will comprise of thirteen Body members. Five of these members will be elected by Aboriginal South Australians, and will represent Aboriginal South Australians based off of five electoral wards across the state. One member will be the Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement. The other 7 Body members will be elected directly by the state governor, and will include two seats reserved for a Maralinga Tjurutja representative and APY representative.


South Australian Aboriginal Governance Inquiry

In early 2021, the South Australian Parliament approved a formal inquiry into the governance of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, following a campaign for Aboriginal Community members, and a request from Premier Steven Marshall, who was driven by “mounting concerns within the SA Aboriginal community about poor governance and alleged corruption.”

The inquiry is to review the accountability, cultural authority, financial obligations, and transparency of these organisations, and will be conducted by the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Tabled in Parliament, the interim report provided that while the committee heard from 25 witnesses and 46 written submissions, the ‘bulk’ of the evidence was kept confidential. MLC Terry Stephens, chairman of the committee, wrote “A consistent theme from these submitters was that they would fear retribution from members in their communities if they spoke publicly about their concerns regarding individual Aboriginal corporations.” This was due to the number of written submissions sent anonymously to the true governance of these corporations. The committee also heard from several concerned Elders about the behaviour of these Aboriginal Corporations.

Mark Koolmatrie, a Ramindgjeri Elder, calls for a royal commission or judicial inquiry into the native title regime. In his submission, Mr Koolmatrie wrote that he was “caught out by scammers and toxic people who have come with what looked like good intentions for our people but in actual fact there was a motive of self-gain.” The interim report has found much of the same across many South Australian communities.

The committee has so far made nine recommendations to assist in improving the governance processes of Aboriginal corporations. This includes reviewing and amending South Australia’s trustee legislation to mandate that native title trusts produce annual financial statements and hold yearly meetings with beneficiaries, and that native title holders should be given access to management and expenditure records without having to apply through the Supreme Court.

Other recommendations include establishing a Commonwealth Ombudsman for Aboriginal Corporations, increasing funding to the South Australian Consumer and Business Services to provide governance training to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, and having the Law Society of SA establish a directory of “honorary advisers” who are willing to give Aboriginal organisations pro bono governance advice.


Five recent native title decisions


Croft on behalf of the Barngarla Native Title Claim Group v State of South Australia (Port Augusta Proceeding) (No 5) [2021] FCA 1132.

Following their Native Title determination, spanning a significant area of the  Eyre Peninsula  region from Whyalla to Port Lincoln in 2016, the Barngarla people sought to resolve the remainder of their initial native over the Port Augusta township.

After a quarter of a century, and one of Australia’s longest running native title claims, in September 2021 Charlesworth J delivered a positive outcome to the Barngarla people, recognising their rights to the land of Port Augusta. This claim follows one previously struck out in April 2019, and one previously made on behalf of the Nukunu People, which was resolved through successful mediation between the groups. The agreement reached between the Barngarla and Nukunu was recognised by the Court as commendable.

Her Honour’s decision was based around the significance of the Barngarla people, acknowledging the anthropological reports provided to the State and Dreaming stories which permeate from the area. Those of significance including:

  • Wilyaru story which travels along the Spencer Gulf from the region of Whyalla to Port Augusta and through to Tent Hill
  • The Seven Sisters story travels through Lake Umeerwarra; and
  • Chalk Hill and a women’s site near the Port Augusta Hospital.

Charlesworth J in her determination also referred to the traditional laws and customs of the Barngarla people, noting their “unique connection” to the land and surrounding waters. This was a significant decision for the Barngarla Elders, many of whom did not live to see the determination.

The findings of the Court also noted that the determination does not create any new rights or interests for the Barngarla people, but rather reflects the recognised rights and interests as they exist in the present day, and as they did under traditional law before sovereignty.


AC (Deceased) v Western Australia [2021] FCA 735


In AC, the State sought summary dismissal of the applicant’s native title determination application. The applicants in questions were the Noongar people, who have previously been involved in several native title claims, including the Whadjuk People.

In 2013, the applicant had lodged an amended determination application over a part of Southwest of Western Australia that almost entirely overlapped with the Settlement area. The applicant had been in negotiations of various Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA), however had not consented to a dismissal of their native title claim.

The State acknowledged that, prior to signing the ILUAs, there was ‘reasonable prospect’ of the applicant successfully prosecuting a native title determination over the claimed area. However, the State argued that because of the extinguishment of native title under the relevant ILUAs, the applicants now had no reasonable expectation of success to their determination.

The applicants contended that there was no proper authorisation of the ILUAs because the members of the applicant constituted a separate subgroup, different from those who engaged in the negotiations and who consented to the ILUAs.


The Court found that the objections to the ILUAs, including by applicant group members, had been previously considered by the Court, and that the opportunity of seeking judicial review of the registration of those ILUAs had now passed.  The registration of the six ILUAs had extinguished all native title claims over the area they covered, to replace the benefits provided under the Southwest Settlement. Consent of the ILUAs therefore also encompassed consenting to dismiss all ongoing native title claims over the area covered by such ILUAs, indicating that the applicant’s claim no longer had any reasonable expectation of success in achieving a native title determination.


Rockland on behalf of the Waanyi People v State of Queensland [2021] FCA 1139


On October 17 2018, Gary Rockland, Lloyd O’Keefe, Ada Walden and Terence Geroge on behalf of the Waanyi People filed an application for the determination of native title, with the determination area commencing approximately 19km northwest of Doomadgee, adjoining the Queensland – Northern Territory border. This new determination area is adjoining to the recognised native title of the previous Waanyi determination in 2010.

Through consultation with the State of Queensland, the Waanyi people sought to recognise some of the non-exclusive native title rights in a form different to that recognised in their first determination. This claim was proposed as an agreement under section 87 of the Native Title Act.  


Justice Burley found that, from the evidence used in their first determination, the Waanyi people have successfully met the requirements of the section 87 agreement. In addition to the determination area itself, the Court recognised non-exclusive native title rights to:

  • Access, to be present on and to traverse the area
  • Hunt, finish and gather on the area,
  • Take natural resources from the area,
  • Live on, to camp and to erect shelters and other structures
  • Light fires on the area for domestic purposes
  • Conduct religious, spiritual, and ceremonial activities
  • Be buried on, and bury Native title Holders on the area
  • Share or exchange natural resources from the area

Barley J notes his admiration for the Waanyi people for their persistence and determination, particularly considering the obstacles faced by many Aboriginal people and their communities.


Stuart v State of South Australia (No 3) [2021] FCA 230


In Stuart v State of South Australia (Oodnadatta Common Overlap Proceeding) [2019] FCA 1282 (15 August 2019) the Court heard an application for orders to consider the cultural and customary concerns of claimant groups regarding the evidence in proceedings for the determination of two overlapping native title claims. One of the claimant groups (the Walka Wani People) sought a range of orders the effect of which would preclude any Aboriginal man who has not been initiated into the relevant Men’s Law. The other claimant group (the Arabana People) and the State objected to aspects of the orders, namely the limitation with respect to the Aboriginal men who may hear or be informed of the evidence.

Following this proceeding, the Arabana people have brought forth another claim to determination over a triangular area south of Maree. In order to establish native title rights, the Arabana people must meet the requirements under section 87 of the NTA.

The ethnographic evidence placed the claim area in Kuyani country at the time of sovereignty. However, credible basis found that the Arabana and Kuyani are members of a wider ‘Lakes Group’ which share customs, laws, and story times. A significant and well-remembered event of the last remaining Kuyani elder handing ceremonial object to an Arabana elder was considered a ‘stark illustration’ of the history of the Lakes Group. There was a joint submission and the Arabana were successful over the Kuyani people in establishing their native title rights and interests.


Justice Mansfield found that, together with the determination made in a wider historical context, there was an expression of recognition of the Arabana rights and interests over their land. His Honour was satisfied that it is appropriate to make a determination over this land in the terms sought by the Arabana people and the State.


Bandjalang People No 3 v Attorney-General of New South Wales [2021] FCA 386


On 24 March 2016, the Bandjalang people made a native title determination application in relation to several parcels of land located on the North Coast of NSW. This follows a larger claim made by the same applicants in 2013 (Bandjalang People No 1 and No 2 v Attorney-General of New South Wales [2013] FCA 1278). These parcels of land totalled 7.2 square kilometres, with the area being of significance to the Bandjalang men, who sill have connection to their country today. The Goanna Headland, near Evans Head was a site of particular significance in this claim.


The Court considered whether the site of the old public school at Bora Ridge was captured by s 47A of the NTA with the legal consequence that the extinguishment of native title rights by the freehold title could be disregarded. This site had been held in freehold by a bank, and later transferred to the Bogal Land Council. This was a place where male elders would introduce younger boys to undertake initiation.

The Court held that it did fall within s 47A based on the transfer to the land council and the agreement of the parties.

Justice Rares held that the proposed orders complied with the requirements of ss 94A and 225 of the Native Title Act. The nonexclusive rights granted were the right to:

  • hunt
  • fish and gather resources
  • take and use resources,
  • access and camp
  • conduct ceremonies
  • teach the attributes of places and areas of importance
  • access and maintain sites of significance to protect them from physical harm.


Other Treaty/Reconciliation Progress


Tasmania – Truth-telling the path to reconciliation

The former Governor of Tasmania, Kate Warner, and law professor Tim McCormack have been chosen by the State government to lead talks with the state’s Aboriginal community in finding a path to reconciliation and implement a treaty. Since June 2021, they have travelled across Tasmania to listen to different Aboriginal groups about what they would like implemented in a treaty. There have been approximately 50 meetings in total, some being gatherings of large communities and other with family groups or individuals. Professor Warner has stated an important element of this treaty will be its emphasis on truth-telling.

The chairman of the Tasmanian Aboriginal land Council, Michael Mansell, said that truth-telling will assist in educating the people of Tasmania of the wrongs of the past.

The meetings have heard reoccurring themes about what the treaty should contain, including compensation, Parliament representation, and the sharing of resources.

However, developing this treaty is unlikely to be an easy process. The issue of identity has been raised at almost all of the treaty meetings across the state. Mr Mansell has noted that up until recently only Aboriginal people could determine who was Aboriginal:

“They took that away from us and the numbers of Aboriginal people swelled, quadrupled, because the Tasmanian government accepted that anyone who signs a document and says, ‘well I believe I am Aboriginal’, is in.”

In the 2016 census there were 23,572 Aboriginal people in Tasmania, just 4.6 percent of the population.

Professor McCormack said the issue of identity was a highly contested topic that would need to be dealt with as part of a treaty-making process.


Victoria – Truth and Justice Process

The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission is currently investigating historical and ongoing injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians in terms of their social, political, and economic lives.

Aboriginal Victorians have called for truth-telling to be an essential part to the state’s treaty-making process. In June 2020, the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria (Assembly) passed a resolution requesting commitment from the State to establish a truth and justice process. The Victorian Government responded in July 2020, with a commitment to working with the Assembly to formally establish this process. A ‘truth commission’ is a ‘formal and legitimate process’ to ‘establish a process’. Creating a formal truth-telling process will support reconciliation for Aboriginal Victorian communities.

For generations Aboriginal Victorians have consistently requested consecutive Governments to establish a formal truth-telling body. After months of work in partnership with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, the Victorian Government has established the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission as Australia’s first formal truth-telling process.

On 12 May 2021, the Governor of Victoria signed the letters patent, to establish the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission as a Royal Commission.

Yoo-rrook is the Wemba Wemba / Wamba Wamba word for ‘truth’.

The Commission will operate independently from government and is different to any other Royal Commission or inquiry undertaken in Australia, due to its truth-telling purpose.

Its work promises to bring about real change through:

  • facilitating truth-telling and healing
  • educating the wider Victorian community
  • developing recommendations for institutional and legal reform.

The Commission will provide an interim report to the Victorian Government by 30 June 2022 and a final report by 30 June 2024.


Queensland – Path to Treaty Progress in Cairns

Queensland’s Path to Treaty is taking further steps in the treaty-making process with its First Nations people. In April 2021 the Treaty Advancement Committee met in Cairns to continue this process. Co-Chair Dr Jackie Huggins and Committee members Dr Josephine Bourne, Professor Michael Lavarch and Dr Sallyanne Atkinson met with community members in Cairns to consider the outcomes of the Path to Treaty Report and discuss the progression towards Treaty in Queensland.


The Path to Treaty journey so far:

  • July 2019 – Launch of Tracks to Treaty Statement of Commitment
  • September-December 2019 – Eminent Panel and Treaty Working Group led state-wide consultation
  • February 2020 – Eminent Panel and Treaty Working Group report and recommendations delivered to Queensland Government
  • May 2020 – Queensland Government obtains supplementary advice from the Eminent Panel due to COVID-19
  • August 2020 – Queensland Government Treaty Statement of Commitment and response
  • February 2021 – Appointment of the Treaty Advancement Committee

Minister for Seniors, Disability Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Craig Crawford, has said having members of the Committee in Cairns will raise the outline and process of Queensland’s ongoing Path to Treaty work:

“The Treaty Advancement Committee is in Cairns to continue its important work as they begin consulting on how to implement their recommendations and to reaffirm our government’s commitment to reframe the relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

Mr Crawford envisages the treaty process will have a significant role to play in the state’s economic policies. This includes by supporting Aboriginal Queenslanders’ participation in the state’s economy and by helping realise their economic aspirations.

Mr Crawford has gone on to say that there is significant public interest in the Path to Treaty:

“Treaties are a critical tool in promoting reconciliation and setting the foundation for a new and just relationship – one that acknowledges the ongoing disadvantage that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience and provides a platform for justice, equality and opportunity.”

The Treaty Advancement Committee will report to government on options in late 2021.

Recognition in the 2021 Doyle’s Guide

Our Principal Michael Pagsanjan and our firm MPS Law has been further recogised for our expertise, in the 2021 Doyle’s Guide.


Doyle’s Guide is an independent legal market research organisation that ranks Australia’s best lawyers and barristers. The ranking is based on testimonials and interviews with clients, peers and stakeholders. This is the second time Michael has been listed, and, the first time our firm has been listed.

“This is a significant achievement for our team at MPS Law. We are pleased that clients and peers believe in the work that we do and our contribution to the law. Full credit must go to the team as a whole, and we celebrate this as a team achievement.” says Mr Pagsanjan.


Announcement of Stage Two of the Indigenous Voice to “Parliament” Co-design process

On 30 October 2020, The Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP (Mr Wyatt) announced the beginning of the Indigenous Voice co-design process. The Indigenous voice co-design Process Interim Report (the Report) was handed to the Hon Ken Wyatt in October by the Senior Advisory group.

On 9 January 2021, the Government launched stage two of the co-design process by releasing the interim report and beginning a four-month consultation process about the proposed voice models.

Individuals, communities and organisations are invited to provide feedback either by completing a survey or entering a submission. Submissions close on 31 March 2021 and the survey will close at the end of the engagement period on 9 May 2021.

This article summarises the proposals and responses.


Currently, there are proposals for (1) a Local and Regional Voice and (2) a National Voice:

Local and Regional Voice Proposal:

That a regional level governance structure:

  • Be designed and led by communities
  • Provide advice to all levels of government to make plans on how to meet community aspirations and deliver on local priorities
  • Provide local views to the National Voice where this informs national issues.

National Voice Proposal:

That a national body made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that:

  • Could provide advice to the Australian Parliament and Government on relevant laws, policies, and programs.
  • Could engage early on with Australian Parliament and Government in the development of relevant policies and laws.”[1]

Further detail on proposed Local and Regional Voice structure

There is no requirement for the local and regional voice to have a set structure. Different regions can create structures that are best suited to their local community. The report proposes 25-35 local and regional voice regions across Australia.

The recommendation is a flexible principals-based framework. This could include the following features:

  • Clear ways for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities, and organisations in the region to get involved and have more of a say.
  • Allow for local priorities to be addressed at the local level.
  • An agreed way to work together in partnership with governments (e.g. partnership meetings)

Further detail on proposed National Voice Structure

Membership for the National Voice could happen in two different ways:

  • ‘Structurally linked’ – selected from local and regional voices or
  • ‘Directly elected’ – where elections are held for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to elect national voice members.

Members would represent their States, Territories and the Torres Strait Islands.

The National voice could include the following features:

  • Consist of up to 20 members, with guaranteed gender balance of members.
  • Include Youth and Disability Advisory Groups to ensure voices of these groups are heard.
  • Connect with Local and Regional Voices to provide views from local communities.
  • Work with existing bodies structures and organisations.
  • Advise on national matters that are critically important to the social spiritual and economic wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Response to the Report

In response to the Report, Mr Wyatt noted that “the best outcomes are achieved when Indigenous Australians are at the centre of decision‑making. We know that for too long decision making treated the symptoms rather than the cause.”[2] This sentiment has been echoed in media, political and academic conversation surrounding the public release of the report.

In October 2020, prior to the release of the report, Ms Pat Turner, Co-Chairperson of the Joint Council in Closing the Gap, cautioned against the risk of an Indigenous voice to parliament, as proposed in the Uluru Statement from the heart, being subverted into a “voice to government”.  Ms Turner warned that the latter is “likely to be disjointed, conflicted, and thus counterproductive”.[3]

Ms Turner, who is also a member of the senior advisory group, elucidated that an essential foundational element is to prevent “the indigenous voice from being applied only at the discretion of governments when and on what governments determine”.[4]

Professor Megan Davis, a Cobble Cobble Aboriginal woman and the Balnaves Chair in constitutional law, echoes Ms Turner’s concerns regarding the interim report preferencing a “voice to government”. However, Professor Davis is very encouraging of the co-design process and highlights that “self-determination is at the core of democratic governance.”[5] Professor Davis notes that the important consultation process should not be muddied by a “legislate first, enshrine later debate” and emphasises the need to enshrine the voice to parliament in the constitution by referring to it as a ‘vision of unity’.[6]

Mr Tom Calma, the Co-chair of the senior advisory group, commented that “the key thing is to create a forum in which dialogue between political decision makers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can take place because it doesn’t happen at the moment and it needs to happen.”[7]

Information and documents regarding the Indigenous Voice co-design process can be accessed from the NIAA website.


[1] See

[2] The Hon Ken Whyatt AM MP. ‘Have your say on Indigenous Voice proposals’ (Media Release, 9 January 2021)

[3] Hurst, Daniel. ‘Indigenous voice to parliament: Pat Turner urges PM to show ‘a bit of backbone’, The Guardian (online, 30 September 2020)

[4] Hurst, Daniel. ‘Indigenous voice to parliament: Pat Turner urges PM to show ‘a bit of backbone’, The Guardian (online, 30 September 2020)

[5]Davis, M. ‘Our Indigenous voice is just waiting to be heard’. The Australian (online, 16 January 2021) <>.

[6] Davis, M. ‘Our Indigenous voice is just waiting to be heard’. The Australian (online, 16 January 2021) <>.

[7] Dingwall, D. ‘Indigenous Voice to Parliament would create much-needed dialogue with government: Tom Calma’. New Castle Herald (online, 15 January 2021) <>.

Principal recognised in the 2021 Chambers Asia-Pacific Guide

MPS Law Principal, Michael Pagsanjan, has been ranked in the 2021 Chambers and Partners Asia-Pacific Guide (the Guide).


The Guide provides reliable information on Australia’s top lawyers, with rankings based on in-depth analysis by leading researchers. The Guide analyses the international legal market, including in Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

Michael is ranked amongst nine other top native title lawyers for representing Traditional Owners, and is the only ranked native title practitioner based in South Australia.

This is the first time Michael has been ranked in the Chambers Guide.

For more information, contact Michael Pagsanjan (

Proposal for Aboriginal ‘voice’ to South Australian Parliament

Dr Roger Thomas, Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, has published his biennial Report of the Commissioner (‘the Report’). The Report, which details Dr Thomas’ activities, also provides commentary on the ongoing ‘exclusion and inequalities’ experienced by Aboriginal South Australians.

This article discusses Dr Thomas’ proposal for the establishment of an Aboriginal Representative Body in South Australia.

The Aboriginal Representative Body

The South Australian Government Aboriginal Affairs Action Plan originally proposed the development of an Aboriginal Engagement Reform proposal. The proposal’s aim was to better enable ‘engagement between government and Aboriginal communities, and for Aboriginal voices to be more represented in government decision-making’. [1]

Currently, the South Australian Aboriginal Advisory Council (‘the SAAAC’), is the formal Aboriginal representation to the South Australian Government. The SAAAC’s members are appointed by Premier Steven Marshall following a public nomination process.

In developing his Aboriginal Engagement Reform proposal, Dr Thomas undertook a five-stage process to determine an appropriate model. The culmination of this process is the proposal of a new Aboriginal Representative Body (‘the Body’), which would replace the SAAAC.

In an effort to consider the entirety of Aboriginal South Australians, Dr Thomas undertook a five-stage process. Importantly, the process:

  • developed twelve principles to guide the proposal, prompting broad community engagement, self-determination of Aboriginal people and legitimacy of the Body.
  • held state-wide consultation within Aboriginal communities. The majority of those consulted expressed interest in ‘improving engagement with the state government’ and there was ‘support for an Aboriginal voice to government that was an independent, representative and genuinely connected with the state’s Aboriginal community’. Further, the Body, being chosen directly by the community, as opposed to being chosen by the government, was welcomed. [2]

The Role and Functions of the Body

In December 2019, Dr Thomas presented his model to Premier Steven Marshall and the South Australian Parliament.

The proposed Body will serve a number of roles and functions. Importantly, the Body will progress the establishment of a Voice in Parliament, which was one of the principal requests from the Uluru Statement of the Heart. [3]

The Body will contribute directly to government decision-making in areas which impact Aboriginal South Australia by:

  • contributing to state policy debate;
  • making recommendations to government on issues and barriers of Aboriginal people;
  • making recommendations to agencies on policy and programs;
  • continuing and improving the relationship between Aboriginal communities at the government; and
  • continuing involvement in Cabinet Strategic Meetings.

The members of the Body will be elected by Aboriginal South Australians across five (to be established) electoral wards. The government currently appoints the SAAAC members and it is believed this new approach will better reflect the diversity of the Aboriginal community and have greater grass-roots links. [4]

Next Steps

COVID-19 travel restrictions into Aboriginal communities several restricted Dr Thomas’ intentions to establish the Body in July 2020. Dr Thomas and his office will continue their work into 2021 by:

  • drafting election rules;
  • drafting legislation for the election of members from five wards; and
  • establishing an electoral roll of Aboriginal South Australians and the mechanisms to promote and support voter registration.

Further commentary on the Uluru Statement from the Heart

In 2017, 250 delegates from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, came together to adopt the Uluru Statement of the Heart. One of the two requests sought, was the establishment of a Constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament (‘the Voice’), which would act as the Voice of Indigenous peoples in federal parliament.

In October 2019, Federal Minster of Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, announced the Indigenous voice co-design process, which would work towards establishing local, regional and national elements of an Indigenous voice. Minister Wyatt established a Senior Advisory Group to develop models which would ensure Indigenous Australian’s are heard at all levels of government. [5] In October 2020, the Senior Advisory Council conducted their final meeting before preparing their interim report for the federal government.

The approach to working with Indigenous communities was a focus of the Morrison Government in addressing the failings of the Closing the Gap targets. In 2020, the Morrison Government entered into the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The new agreement is founded on the approach where ‘policy making that impacts on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is done in full and genuine partnership’. This genuine partnership was also been echoed by Mr Thomas in his Report, believing ‘long-term, suitable change for Aboriginal people can only be achieved through self-determination that is achieved by having Aboriginal people at the heart of decisions that concern them and their lives’. [6]

More information on the new approach to Closing the Gap is available in our Year in Review.

For further information, please contact Michael Pagsanjan (


[1] Department of the Premier and Cabinet, South Australian Government Aboriginal Affairs Action Plan 2019 – 2020 (Annual Report, 2020) 15.

[2] Dr Roger Thomas, Report of the South Australian Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement (Biennial Report, November 2020) 23.

[3] Ibid 24

[4] Ibid 24.

[5] Australian Government, ‘Indigenous voice co-design process announced’, Indigenous Voice (News Release, 30 October 2019) .

[6] Dr Roger Thomas, Report of the South Australian Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement (Biennial Report, November 2020) 9.

2020 Year in review: Native title law and policy

This article summarises updates on native title across Australia over the past twelve months, but also provides broader commentary on policy and current affairs relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and stakeholders working with First Nations.


Native title by the numbers

·       138 claims are unresolved

·       11 current compensation claims (increasing from 3 in the previous year)

·       1,347 registered Indigenous Land Use Agreements since 1992

·       507 native title determinations, with 420 determinations recognising native title, since 1992


Native title reforms

The Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill (the Bill) proposes amendments to both the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (Native Title Act) and the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2006 (Cth) (CATSI Act).

Broadly, the Bill seeks to strengthen rules and processes in relation to:

1.    Authorisation;

2.    Applicant Decision Making;

3.    Indigenous Land Use Agreements;

4.    Historical Extinguishment;

5.    Registered Native Title Body Corporate’s right to bring compensation applications;

6.    Intervention and Consent Determinations;

7.     Other processes; and,

8.    RNTBC Obligations

On 19 August 2020, the Senate Legal and Constitutional affairs Committee recommended that the Federal Parliament pass the Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. Should the Bill pass through the House of Representatives and Senate, it will be the most significant changes to the Native Title Act since the Howard Government’s amendments after the Wik decision in 1998.


Native title corporation reforms

The CATSI Act is also being reviewed. Several issues are being considered, including:

•         how native title benefits must be reported

•         changing Regulations to include native title benefit decisions as ‘native title decisions’

•         allowing trusts under the CATSI Act

•         changing membership details and application timeframes

•         changing membership cancellation and appeals processes

•         broadening grounds for administration

•         changing processes relating to show cause notices

•         changes to presumptions of insolvency

•         reviewing the Registrar’s power to call or cancel a meeting

•         changes to corporation rights to cancel or delay a meeting 

•         allowing different memberships and wholly owned subsidiaries in the CATSI Act

•         changes to director remuneration reporting

•         changes to board composition and independent directors

•         reviewing incorporating traditional legal concepts in corporation rules

•         considering arbitration functions for disputes


Native title representative body (NTRB) updates

NTRBs (including service providers) are the organisations recognised under the Native Title Act that carry special functions, including facilitating and assisting native title claims. There have been interesting developments for NTRBs in the past year, including the following:

•         In 2019, an NTRB in Western Australia was not funded by the Commonwealth Government. This led to the creation of Native Title Services Goldfields.

•         The Commonwealth Government, through the National Indigenous Australians Agency, has changed the funding cycles of NTRBs, and this has impacted the way NTRBs operate.

•         In August 2020, it was reported that the National Native Title Council (the peak body for NTBCs) was intending to pool internal NTRB lawyers to limit the use of ‘external’ lawyers.


State based treaties

State Governments around the country continue to prepare for treaty negotiations. In Victoria, the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria has been declared to be the Aboriginal Representative Body, with a focus on ‘nation-building’ to give Traditional Owner groups access to funding to prepare for treaty negotiations. In Queensland earlier this year, the Queensland Government accepted, or accepted in principle, recommendations and released a statement of commitment and response to the ‘Path to Treaty’. The next step in Queensland will be the establishment of a Treaty Advancement Committee.

These treaty processes are separate to native title processes.


Increasing relevance of International Standards in risk management

In 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (the Declaration). Australia is a signatory. Article 32 of the Declaration provides that:

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.

The Declaration is also relevant to the Equator Principles. The Equator Principles are a set of international risk management standards for financial institutions. It requires evidence of compliance with the Declaration as a minimum standard as part of the financial institution’s due diligence process. The latest version of the framework is Equator Principle 4, and must have been implemented by Equator Principles Financial Institutions (EPFIs) by 1 October 2020. Stakeholders who work in native title may require project finance should be aware of these international standards. At the time of writing, October 2020, there are currently 111 financial institutions in 37 countries who are signatories.


Relevance of State-based heritage laws and the Juukan Gorge case study

Each State and Territory has its own legislation relating to cultural heritage. This legislation operates in addition to native title law. The most recent and publicly covered example of the interaction between State-based heritage laws and native title is in relation to Juukan Gorge.

The Juukan Gorge caves, located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, are recognised as being one of Australia’s oldest known Aboriginal heritage sites. The caves, having evidence of human occupation dating over 46,000 years, were destroyed by explosives used by Rio Tinto in May 2020 to extend its Brockman 4 iron ore mine.

Section 17 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) provides a person shall not excavate, destroy, damage, conceal or in any way alter any Aboriginal site, unless the consent of the Minster is given pursuant to section 18. Despite destroying an Aboriginal site, Rio Tinto was acting lawfully, having been granted Ministerial consent to conduct the blasting in 2013.  The project was also consented to by an Indigenous Land Use Agreement.

In June 2020, the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia was directed to commence an inquiry into the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves. The Committee is due to publish their final report by 9 December 2020 and, as at the date of writing, is currently holding public consultations.

In the interim, the Western Australia government has released the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 (WA) for public consultation. The Bill, which is the culmination of over two years of consultation with Aboriginal people, industry representatives, heritage professionals and the Western Australian community, proposes significant changes to modernise legislation on the management of Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia. The Bill would repeal the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA), in favour of a tiered approach to approvals of Aboriginal heritage land management. The tiered approach would require land users engaging in low, medium or high impact activity to comply with an approved Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management Plan.

Notably, the Bill will not revoke current section 18 ministerial consents, and these will remain in force. A 12 month grace period prior to the Bill coming into force has been proposed, restricting section 18 ministerial consents made under the current Act, and within this grace period, to only be valid for a period of five years.


Closing the Gap

Closing the Gap progress – or lack thereof – continues to be relevant to traditional owners.

In 2005, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, in his Social Justice Report, urged Australian governments to commit to achieving equality for Indigenous people in health and life expectancy, within 25 years. Following a number of years of advocacy work by non-government groups, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG; now the National Federation Reform Council) approved the National Indigenous Reform Agreement. The Agreement set out six close the gap targets:

1.     Close the life expectancy gap within a generation;

2.     Halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five;

3.     All four year olds, including in remote indigenous communities, have access to early childhood education within;

4.     Halve the gap for Indigenous students in reading, writing and numeracy;

5.     Halve the gap in Indigenous 20-24 year olds in Year 12 or equivalent attainment; and

6.     Halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

A seventh target was adopted in May 2014 to close the gap between Indigenous and non‑Indigenous school attendance.

The 2020 Closing the Gap report found only two of the seven targets were being met. The unfortunate reality is these failings follow years of failure to meet the 2008 targets. Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the Closing the Gap report as proving a “top-down, government-knows-best” approach has failed (see Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 12 February 2020 969 (Prime Minister Mr Scott Morrison)).

To address these failings, the National Agreement on Closing the Gap was entered into between the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations and all Australian governments. The Agreement is founded on a new approach where “policy making that impacts on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is done in full and genuine partnership”.

In the course of developing the Agreement, the Coalition, in partnership with governments, held almost 60 face-to-face meetings across Australia, with more than 2,300 individuals as well as nearly 1,700 individuals responding to an online survey.

The Agreement is structured around four new Priority Reforms to transform the way governments work with and for Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander peoples. These Policy Reforms are coupled with sixteen new national socio-economic and measurable targets. These targets focus on areas including education, employment, health and well-being, justice, safety, housing, land and waters, and the preservation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. 

Under the Agreement, the State, Territory and Federal Governments are required to develop an implementation plan in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders within twelve months. The implementation plans are required to show how policies and programs align with the Agreement, the actions which will be taken to achieve the Policy Reforms and include information on funding and timeframes for actions.

To ensure the past failings are not repeated, the Agreement has included accountability measures. The Productivity Commission will publish data and supporting materials on progress being made towards reaching the targets. Every three years, the Productivity Commission is also required to conduct a comprehensive review of the progress being made. The Productivity Commission’s reviews will be complimented with reviews led by Independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to be conducted within twelve months of the Commissions review. This review will highlight areas of achievement and areas where greater collective effort is needed.


ORIC’s role in placing RNTBCs in special administration

RNTBCs (registered native title body corporates), or PBCs, are the native title organisations that hold or manage native title rights and interests.

Unique to the CATSI Act, the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) is allowed appoint a special administrator for a period of time. Special administration is a form of external administration but is different to voluntary administration provided by the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).

The purpose of special administration is to enable ORIC to provide early proactive regulatory assistance for when a corporation experiences financial or governance difficulties. The appointed special administrator will take control of the corporation and is responsible for, and has extensive control over, the conduct of the affairs of the corporation.

Special administration can be an effective tool in restoring the ability of a corporation to act in the best interests of their members. Below are two case studies of ORIC’s role in special administration in 2020.

Case study one: Ngadju Native Title Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC

In November 2019, ORIC placed Ngadju Native Title Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC under special administration. The corporation holds and manages the native title rights and interests for two native title claims around Norseman in Western Australia, on behalf of the Ngadju people – an area larger than the United Kingdom.

The corporation was placed under special administration due to the directors being engaged in long term unresolved disputes. The disputes centred on two groups on the board asserting the other did not hold the board’s full powers. Resultingly, two board members believed they were lawfully appointed to the position of CEO. Lawyers for each faction had asserted their respective firm was the corporations legal representative.

In a statement by ORIC Registrar, Selwyn Button, the governance and decision making of the corporation was “not in the best interests of members and the Ngadju traditional owners”, and ‘the dysfunction was affecting the conduct of the corporation’s affairs”. 

In July 2020, ORIC ended the special administration of the corporation and the corporation was returned to member control. The special administration strengthened the internal governance and operational framework. Key changes included:

o   the addition of two independent specialist directors on the board;

o   limiting the member directorships to six, with no more than one from any one family group;

o   revision of the rule book; and

o   strengthening the staff structure to decrease reliance on external advice, and in turn, reduce costs.

The corporation will be monitored for twelve months by ORIC.

Case study two: Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (Aboriginal Corporation) RNTBC

In March 2020, ORIC placed the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (Aboriginal Corporation) RNTBC (ATLA) under special administration. ATLA holds the native title land rights and interest in 41,000 square kilometres of land in and around the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, on behalf of the Adnyamathanha traditional owners.

In an examination by ORIC in November 2019, ATLA, who has various business operations in the area, was found to have a range of governance issues. These issues extended to a lack of records of meetings, membership, spending and directorship. These difficulties were described as chronic and severe.

In July 2020, ORIC extended the appointment of the special administrators. Despite making significant progress, at the time, ATLA was not yet ready to be handed back to the members. ORIC highlighted the need for a substantial undertaking in an overhaul to the corporation to ensure it best serves the Adnyamathanha people.

At the time of writing, the corporation was still under special administration.


Yamatji Nation Southern Regional Settlement

Native title settlements continue to innovate around the country. The Yamatji Nation settlement is a good example of innovation in native title settlements.

The Yamatji Nation native title claim, covering approximately 48,000 square kilometres in Western Australia, has been a long and challenging process. The claim first commenced in 1996 with several overlapping native title claims by various claim groups. Mediation and negotiation amongst the claim groups, the State and other respondents culminated in July 2019 with the filing of a new, overarching claim for native title determination.

In February 2016, a judicial registrar of the Federal Court of Australia mediated to resolve the outstanding overlapping claims. This outcome meant negotiations with the State Government could commence. In November 2017, the Federal Court set a deadline for the claim group and the State to negotiate and reach an agreement by December 2019. The remaining four claim groups agreed to lodge a single claim known as the Yamataji Nation Claim.

In February 2020, the Federal Court of Australia determined native title for the Yamatji Nation Claim. The determination was accompanied by an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA), with over $450 million in benefits, comprising of monetary components, transfer of commercial land to the Yamatji Nation, joint ventures, tourism opportunities and access to housing.

The Yamatji Nation ILUA was conclusively registered on 23 October 2020.


Five recent noteworthy native title decisions

Northern Land Council v Quall [2020] HCA 33 (Quall)

Quall was an appeal to the High Court of Australia, which overturned the 2019 decision of the Full Court of the Federal Court.


·       In 2016, Northern Land Council (NLC) and Northern Territory agreed upon an ILUA concerning the Cox Peninsula near Darwin (Kenbi ILUA).

·       In March 2017, NLC’s CEO signed certificate to certify ILUA for the purposes of s 24CG(3) of the NTA.

·       Certification stated that opinions on factual matters relevant to ss 203 BE(5)(a)-(b) and 203BE(6)(b) were given by NLC. These provisions require the representative body to form and provide an opinion that all reasonable efforts made to ensure persons who hold (or may hold) native title have been identified, and that such persons have authorised the agreement.

·       Certification stated that NLC certified the ILUA, whereas the document was executed and the certification made by CEO in his capacity as delegate of the NLC, not by the NLC itself. Delegation authorising CEO to make certification was conferred by resolution of NLC on 1 October 1996 and recorded in an instrument of delegation dated 10 March 2000.

·       NTA confers no explicit power of delegation on representative bodies. Existence of power to delegate certification function turns on the question of whether s 203BK (which confers power to do “all things necessary and convenient”) properly construed as containing implicit power of delegation.


Appeal to the Full Court of the Federal Court – [2019] FCAFC 77:

·       The applicants challenged the certification of the ILUA contending that:

1.     NLC’s certification function under s 203BE(1)(b) of the NTA was not delegable;

2.     The 1 October 1996 resolution and 10 March 2000 instrument of delegation did not effect valid delegation; and

3.     Certificate was not valid for purposes of s 24CG(3)(a) of the NTA and Kenbi ILUA therefore not eligible for registration.

·       The Full Court decided that:

o   Certification function in s 203 BE(1)(b) cannot be delegated. Proper discharge of certification functions under s 203BE(1)(b) requires NLC itself to hold and state requisite opinion.

o   Rejected primary Judge’s finding that s 203BK(1) confers power to delegate.

Appeal to the High Court of Australia:

Although the Justices of the High Court were unanimous in overturning the Full Court’s decision, a 4-2 division arose founded on the reasoning of their Honours.

The Majority

·       NTA s 203B(3) prevents, with few exceptions, the RNTB form entering into agreements with another person, under which, the other person would perform the function of the RNTB.

·       However, this was not intended to be a reference to those within the representative body or other persons who have authority under the constraining statute. 

·       NTA s 203BK, an exception of s 203B(3) did not itself grant power to a representative body to delegate; rather, delegation had to be found within the body’s constraining statute.

·       Having found the NTA does not prohibit delegation, their Honours found the ‘functions’, referred to in s 27(1) of the ALRA, was not restrained to the specific powers found in s 28 of the ALRA, but rather includes functions conferred on the NLC from or under another act, including the NTA.

The majority concluded the certification function of the NLC, having been delegated onto the CEO, was validly permitted and executed.

The Minority

The minority agreed with the majority that the NLC CEO could perform certification functions, but for different reasons.

·       The minority agreed the NTA does not allow delegation of the certification function.

·       Although, this did not prevent the NLC from authorising agents to perform authorisation on its behalf and the NLC had authorised the CEO to perform its certification function. 

McGlade v South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Aboriginal Corp (No 2) (2019) 374 ALR 329; [2019] FCAFC 238


·       The Noongar people are the traditional owners of approximately 200,000 square kilometres in the South West Region of Western Australia. Six ILUAs were made between the Noongar people and the State of Western Australia and were registered by a Registrar to the Native Title Tribunal. All six ILUAs later faced judicial review in the Federal Court. The Federal Court referred these applications directly to the Full Court.

·       The grounds for judicial review was that the Registrar had erred in finding the ILUAs had been properly authorised because:

o   The Noongar people were misled into believing the authorisation process must have taken place at an in person meeting on Country;

o   A large number of incarcerated Noongar people were denied the opportunity to participate;

o   Most Noongar people were not afforded reasonable opportunity to participate in the authorisation process; and

o   Not all Noongar people were invited to each authorisation meeting.


·       The Full Court held the Registrar had not erred in their registration.

Reasons for decision:

·       The Full Court accepted attendees at a meeting are permitted to agree and adopt a decision making process implementing postal and proxy voting. However, at none of the six authorisation meetings, was this agreed upon. Further, there was nothing inherently incorrect in believing an authorisation processes must take place in person and on Country.

·       Turning to incarcerated Noongar people, the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council had taken measures to ensure the incarcerated members were afforded a reasonable opportunity to participate in the authorisation process. These steps included information sessions held in prisons. The Court emphasised the importance of ‘proper and genuine consideration’ to involve incarcerated native title holders.

·       The Court rejected the argument that around 15,000 Noongar people, many of whom live in Perth, would have found it difficult to attend an authorisation meeting. The Court found it is ‘entirely appropriate’ to hold authorisation meetings on Country where adequate transport is provided.

·       The Court accepted that it was appropriate for not all Noongar people to be invited to every meeting. The reason being that despite the single Noongar people claim, not all Noongar people were entitled to the whole claim area.

Western Australia v Manado (2020) 376 ALR 427; [2020] HCA 9


·       The Bindunbur and Jabirr Jabirr/Ngumbarl native title determinations were made covering large areas of land and waters on the Dampier Peninsula in the Kimberly Region of Western Australia.

·       The State of Western Australia had enacted the Titles (Validation) and Native Title (Effect of Past Acts) 1995 (WA) which confirmed public access to public areas, mirroring the wording of s 212(2) of the NTA.

·       The appeal to the High Court of Australia was against the decision of the Federal Court of Australia, which had overturned the decision of the Federal Court.


·       The High Court of Australia overturned the decision of the Full Court of the Federal Court.

·       The Court unanimously confirmed that access to and enjoyment of public areas, as authorised by s 212(2) of the NTA, must be recorded where those interests fall within a native title determination

Reasons for decision:

The majority

·       The majority held access and enjoyment was within the definition of an ‘interest’ found in s 253 of the NTA. In turn, the Court concluded the interest must be included in a native title determination as an ‘other interest’ within s 225(c).

·       Their Honours reasoned the NTA gives authority to confirm existing public rights of access and enjoyment and that even if the right had not been afforded by law, or if the right was not in use by the public, the right still existed.

The minority

·       Nettle J concluded public access and enjoyment equates to a ‘privilege’ and not a right.

Edelman J found the public access and enjoyment to be a ‘right’, relying on the plain and ordinary meaning of the word.

Drury obh of Nanda People v Western Australia [2020] FCAFC 69


·       In November 2019, a consent determination allowing both the Malgana People and the Nanda People to hold non-exclusive native title rights over an ‘overlap’ area of two claims, approximately 800 kilometres north of Perth.

·       The Federal Court referred the matter to the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia to determine:

1.     If the court has the power to decide more than one PBC can perform the associated functions; and

2.     If this is permitted, does the court have discretion in determining if only one PBC should exist for an area where each claim group has nominated a PBC.


·       The majority concluded the court holds power to grant more than one PBC the functions of the NTA and regulatory functions, but only where there has been an ‘overall determination’ to the existence of ‘separate and distinct native titles’.

·       The second question was answered in the negative.

Reasons for Decision:

·       Exploring ‘separate and distinct native title’:

o   The common connection by a particular group of people to a particular land or waters can be possessed by the whole society, or by individual groups within the society which does not extend to broader societal communal ownership.

o   Their Honour’s drew attention to the fact that communal native title need not be held by the entire single, although this will usually be the case.

·       In discussing ‘overall determination’:

o   The overall determination is a determination as to if native title exists in relation to a particular land or waters.

o   Further, a single determination of native title can give rise to multiple overall determinations, as a native title determination requires a determination of all areas contained within the claim area.

o   Once a determination of native title is made, further determinations can be made, providing more context on the determination.

·       The power of the court to make a determination of which PBC holds which native title rights operates only when a native title determination is made. This operates the same if a claim is overlapping or not.

·       Where there has been a determination, the process for nominating a PBC must be followed, and two PBCs over the same area is a ‘necessary consequence’.

·       The language of the NTA provides mandatory appointment of a PBC or a determination if the land is to be held in trust. Therefore, if a nomination for who will hold native title is made, the nomination is to be given effect without the discretion of the court.


Fortescue Metals Group v Warrie obh of Yindjibarndi People [2019] FCAFC 177

An appeal by Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) of the judgement of the Federal Court of Australia.


·       In 2017, the Yindjibarndi People were found to hold exclusive native title to land to areas in and around the Pibara region of Western Australia, including FMG’s Solomon Hub iron ore mines. The Court had rejected arguments from the State and FMG to find only non-exclusive native title.

·       FMG appealed the decision to the Full Court of the Federal Court in December 2017.

·       FMG argued:

1.     The existence of an abuse of process, due to inconsistent earlier determinations for separate areas which recognised the Yindjibarndi People as only holding non-exclusive native title;

2.     The Yindjibarndi People’s native title rights and interests should not include a right to exclude anyone from accessing the determination area for any reason; and

3.     Certain parts of the claim should not have been ‘occupied’.


·       The Full Court dismissed FMG’s appeal.

Reasons for Decision:

The Full Court reasoned the following:

1.     There was no oppression to FMG in the Yindjibarndi People asserting their exclusive rights, not did the Yindjibarndi People’s actions bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

2.     No error was made by the primary judge in finding exclusive possession could arise from spiritual necessity. This finding had been correctly applied from the decisions of Griffiths v Northern Territory [2007] FCAFC 178 and Banjima People v Western Australia [2015] FCAFC 84.

3.     A ‘concrete real world sense’ is not required to show ‘occupation’ under s 47B of the NTA. Rather, occupation is a question of fact and can be derived from spiritual, cultural and social contexts.

FMG sought special leave of the High Court of Australia which was refused in May 2020.

For more information contact Michael Pagsanjan (  

Update on Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill

The Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill (the Bill) proposes amendments to both the Native Title Act 1993 (Native Title Act) and the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (CATSI Act).


Broadly, the Bill proposes changes in relation to:

1.       Authorisation

2.       Applicant Decision Making

3.       Indigenous Land Use Agreements

4.       Historical Extinguishment

5.       Registered Native Title Body Corporate’s right to bring compensation applications

6.       Intervention and Consent Determinations

7.       Procedural Changes

8.       RNTBC Obligations


The requirements for authorisation of an application for a determination of native title are set out in s 251B of the NTA. Amendments to s 251BA are proposed to:

  • Allow the claim group to impose conditions on the authority of the applicant.
  • Require the claim group to make public notification of any conditions imposed on the applicant.
  • Allow the people named as the applicants to be changed without further authorisation in certain circumstances.
  • Allow the claim group to make succession plans for individual members of the applicant as part of the authorisation process, if they were to pass-away.

In short, the amendments give more freedom to the native title claim group to manage and limit the authority of the person/people who are bringing the native title application on their behalf. The Law Council of Australia has acknowledged that the amendments reflect how authorisation has been practised in many cases for some years now. [1]

Applicant Decision Making

Changes proposed under the Bill seek to:

  • Clarify the duties of the applicant to the claim group.
  • Allow the applicant to act by majority as the default position.

In scrutinising the Bill, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on human rights noted that this aspect of the proposed amendments may limit or interfere with the right to culture, particularly where is a conflict between an individual’s right to culture versus the right of the majority to culture. [2]

Indigenous Land Use Agreements

In relation to Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs), the following changes are proposed:

  • Property descriptions and parties to agreements can be amended on registered ILUAs
  • Amendments to an ILUA cannot include any additional area of land or waters not previously included in the agreements.

Body Corporate ILUAs vs Area ILUAS

Currently only area ILUAS can deal with compensation for extinguishment.  The proposed changes will allow body corporate ILUAs to be made on land where native title rights are fully extinguished.  By allowing use of body corporate ILUAs, this may simplify the agreement making process, by avoiding more complex authorisation and objections processes.


The proposed changes clarify the validity of future acts, completed under ILUA’s that have been deregistered. The amendments clarify that any acts done in accordance with a deregistered ILUA or any acts invalidly done which were validated by a deregistered ILUA remain valid.

The Law Council of Australia has noted that the practical benefit of this amendment may be limited; there may be valid reasons why the validity of a future act ought to be set aside. For example, if the ILUA was affected by fraud, duress, coercion, jurisdictional error or administrative law error. [3]

Historical Extinguishment

The Bill proposes to broaden the circumstances where historical extinguishment can be disregarded. This broadens the range of circumstances in which Native Title can be claimed.

The proposed circumstances where historical extinguishment is invalid include:

  • Areas of national state or territory parks, where the parties agree.
  • Pastoral Leases controlled or owned by Native Title Corporations.

It is important to note that at the Senate Committee, the Attorney-General’s Department informed the committee that the invalidation of historical extinguishment will only occur when native title and government parties agree, and subject to any conditions required by the relevant government party.[4]

Registered Native Title Body Corporate’s right to bring compensation applications

The Bill will allow an RNTBC to make a compensation claim over areas within the external boundary of its determination area where native title has been fully extinguished.

Intervention and Consent Determinations

The Bill proposes amendments to clarify the role of the relevant Commonwealth minister when intervening in Native Title Proceedings.

The Bill also clarifies the procedural requirements for the Federal Court to make determinations with the consent of the parties.

Organisations such as Central Desert Native Title Services, National Native Title Council and Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation have commented that often the Commonwealth intervene belatedly and having to satisfy their needs once they join as a party can further complicate proceedings rather than improve their means of productive intervention. [5]

Procedural Changes

Section 31 Agreements relates to negotiation procedure surrounding the granting of mining and exploration rights. The validity of section 31 agreements was clouded in uncertainty following the decision from the Full Federal Court in McGlade v Native Title Registrar & Ors [2017] FCAFC 10.

The full court held where not all members of the registered Native Title Applicants signed an ILUA it was deemed invalid.

  • The changes confirm that decisions made under section 31 are valid where not all members of the registered Native Title Applicant have signed the agreement. It is proposed that these changes apply retrospectively to all agreements.
  • It is also proposed that the Native Title Registrar create and maintain a public record of section 31 agreements.
  • This register record would include a description of the area of land or water, name and address of each party to the agreement, the period in which the agreement will operate and the existence of any initial or additional agreements between the some or all of the same parties.

The Explanatory Memorandum raises the issue that parties will be unable to challenge the validity of agreements on legitimate grounds as well as illegitimate grounds.[6] The justification provided to address this concern is that the reform is necessary, proportionate and provides certainty to all stakeholders in the Native Title System.

A submission by Ross Mackay, MPS Law consultant lawyer, was referenced in the senate committee report.  He emphasises the importance of the Native Title Register to assist native title holders to be aware of their rights and obligations, particularly when Native Title has been inherited.

RNTBC Obligations

The Bill proposes a number of amendments to the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (Cth) (CATSI Act).  The intent of the amendments to the CATSI Act is to improve accountability, transparency, and governance of Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate.  Broadly, this is achieved by changes which:

  • Regulate the interaction between RNTBC’s and their members regarding cancellation of membership.
  • Place a RNTBC under special administration where it has failed to comply with certain obligations.
  • Require RNTBC’s to amend their constitutions to establish dispute resolution pathways.

The proposed changes to the CATSI Act were poorly received with many submissions from stakeholders citing concerns that these amendments undermine the rights of self-determination of native title holders.

Progress of the Bill through Parliament and next steps

On 19 August 2020, the Senate Legal and Constitutional affairs Committee recommended that the Federal Parliament pass the Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill 2019.[7]

If the Bill is passed by the House of Representatives and Senate, it will be the most significant changes to the Native Title Act 1993 since the Howard Government’s amendments after the Wik decision in 1998.[8]

For more information, contact Michael Pagsanjan (

****UPDATE: On 3 February 2021 the Bill passed both Houses of Parliament and received assent on 16 February 2021****



[1]Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, Law Council of Australia, Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 [Provisions] (December 2019).

[2] Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, Parliament of Australia, Human Rights Scrutiny Report. Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 [Provisions] Senate Committee Report (December 2020).

[3] Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, Law Council of Australia, Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 [Provisions] (December 2019).

[4] Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, Parliament of Australia, Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 [Provisions] Senate Committee Report (Final Report, August 2019).

[5] Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, Parliament of Australia, Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 [Provisions] Senate Committee Report (Final Report, August 2019).

[6] Explanatory Memorandum, Native Title Amendments Bill 2019 (Cth).

[7] Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, Parliament of Australia, Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 [Provisions] Senate Committee Report (Final Report, August 2019).

[8] Cross, H. ‘Commonwealth puts forward long overdue Native Title Reform’.  National Indigenous Times (online, 30 October 2019) <>.

Four quick tips for effective drafting

Effective drafting will help you to write clearly and strengthen your position when exchanging written documents. This article provides four tips for effective drafting.

1.     An intelligent start

Before you start writing, we recommend ‘an intelligent start’ by asking yourself four questions:

  1. What is my goal?
  2. How important is my goal?
  3. How will my goal be received by the reader?
  4. Should I write this at all?

This will assist you to organise your thoughts, save time and determine whether or not you need to write something or if it is better to wait, or, pick up the mobile and call someone to discuss.

2.     Brainstorm to organise thoughts and language

After brainstorming as many thoughts as possible, sort through your thoughts and edit your ideas, ensuring that you get to your stated goal. It may cause you to revisit your goal. We recommend grouping your thoughts into key themes, which may then form headings for each section of your document. Re-organise your thoughts so that each section will make as much sense as possible to the reader, logically flowing to each key theme.

3.     Write a knock-out lead sentence

You need to get to the point. Once you have sorted your sections using headings, take the time to draft a clear lead sentence. Give the reader the answer they are looking for, or make the point you want to make, without requiring the reader to sift through detail.

4.     Keep it simple

Try not to over-complicate your message and always use plain English. Avoid words and terms that aren’t used in everyday language and keep sentences short. Less is more. As best as you can, try to avoid emotive language – although it can add passion, it tends to cause your key messages to be lost. Emotive language will likely make it harder for you to achieve your goal through writing.

For more information, contact Barbara Kekes ( or Michael Pagsanjan (