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Narungga women win concession over treaty negotiations

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Three Narungga women have won an extension of time in the Supreme Court for their people to consider the next step in treaty negotiations with the State Government.

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Cabinet is this afternoon considering whether to approve an agreement, to be distributed to the Narungga people tomorrow. The Government says this document is the first step towards a treaty with the Narungga people.

The community was being asked to vote on the agreement at a meeting on Saturday, called by the Narungga Nations Aboriginal Corporation Regional Authority (NACRA).

But Narungga women Kylie O’Loughlan, Susan Dixon and Linda Webb yesterday appeared in the Supreme Court, securing a concession from NACRA that would give the community a fortnight, rather than about 24 hours, to consider the agreement.

The three women are concerned that the agreement has been negotiated by NACRA without proper consultation with the community – an allegation denied by the organisation.

“What the plantiffs are concerned about is that their community is being asked to vote on something … (with) inadequate detail and notice,” Judge Graham Dart said at yesterday’s hearing.

SA Native Title principal legal officer Andrew Beckworth, representing NACRA, told the court NACRA wasn’t “totally impressed” with the short notice the community was being provided, but that the Government wanted the vote to be held before it goes into caretaker mode on February 17, ahead of the March state election.

He said NACRA would use a vote at Saturday’s meeting to inform its response, on behalf of the Narungga people, to the Government’s proposed agreement – stressing that it was not NACRA’s meeting per se, but rather a Narungga community meeting.

However, Dart said 24 hours would not be enough time for the Narungga people to consider the contract, warning “someone’s going to challenge it” if the vote is held on Saturday.

“If this is step one towards a Treaty it’s obviously very important,” he said.

“It’s taken more than 200 years to get to this stage.”

He adjourned the hearing to allow the parties to negotiate a postponement of the vote.

Outside the court, O’Loughlin and Dixon argued with Beckworth, telling him he did not represent the Narungga people and questioning why NACRA had not distributed the minutes from a previous community meeting on January 6.

Beckworth told the pair that he was happy to provide them with notes from that meeting and that NACRA chairperson Tauto Sansbury had agreed that the vote should be postponed for a fortnight.

Dart reopened the hearing and summarised the case, saying: “The defendant now agrees that the meeting on the 20th of January will proceed as an information meeting only, with no vote to be taken.”

“The meeting will then be adjourned to February 3, 2018, at which time the proposed agreement will be put to a vote of the community.

“It seems a sensible compromise.”

He granted O’Loughlan, Dixon and Webb the ability to bring the matter back to the court at short notice before the February 3 meeting if they are unsatisfied with Saturday’s meeting.

But he said he hoped that would not be the case, and “hopefully the vote goes well”.

Earlier, O’Loughlin said outside court that she feared the implications of the agreement including a “removal of self-determination”.

Dixon said the treaty process was wrong.

“I think Kyam Maher needs to be asked ‘are these agreements or are these treaties’, because they’re using treaties as an election platform and that’s really concerning to us,” she said.

State Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Kyam Maher intiated state-based treaty negotiations in 2017.

He told InDaily this week that the agreement with the Narungga people was the “first step” in a treaty process.

However, the process appears to be mired in confusion, at least in relation to the Narungga – one of three groups of Aboriginal people engaged in treaty negotiations with the Government.

NACRA chairperson Tauto Sansbury said that NACRA had had no part of negotiations with the State Government, but that a “negotiating team”, including himself, had been in discussion about a services agreement between the Government and the Narungga.

He said this “negotiating team” was seperate from NACRA. The SA Native Title Services website says NACRA appointed a negotiating team.

Sansbury says that while disputation concerning the proposed agreement with the Government among members of the Narungga concerned him, “I hope that at the end of the day .. they (O’Loughlin, Dixon and Webb) get to read that, and see the benefits that are going to come out of it.”

Maher announced a state-based treaty process in 2016 and appointed a treaty commissioner the following year to consult with Aboriginal people.

Negotiations with individual Aboriginal groups, including the Narungga people, began in September last year.

Liberal leader Steven Marshall opposes the treaty process, saying he would prefer resources to be directed towards addressing disadvantage.

– Additional reporting by Stephanie Richards.

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