Nov 28, 2012

Landholders duded again


Rural landholders are a tenacious lot.  They regularly battle bushfires, floods, drought, and everything else that the idiosyncratic extremes that is the Australian climate can throw at them.  Despite this they manage to feed and clothe the nation while generating surplus production that enhances our balance of trade.
Apart from nature, they have a constant battle to deal with adverse government decisions in relation to land use, water rights, mineral and gas extraction, even the right to control weeds on their properties.  Constant vigilance is needed to head off the more extreme lobby groups, determined to create chaos such as the live cattle export ban, which crippled the northern cattle industry.
Now it has been announced that when they find themselves, on the wrong end of a government funded land rights claim they are on their own, rather than receiving assistance to deal with it: 
As part of budget cuts in a "tight fiscal environment", Ms Roxon will stop from January 1 the Native Title Respondent Funding Scheme, which provides lawyers and native title officers to three pastoral industry bodies. The government will continue funding indigenous claimants 
The NT Cattlemen's Association, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA and AgForce Queensland have been desperately lobbying the Minister, saying the cessation of funding would mean native title claims will end up in protracted court cases instead of being settled by consent. 
The National Farmers Federation also argues the legal and court costs to the commonwealth will be "far greater than the current expenditure" on the scheme if it ends and its demise would be "legal chaos". 
"(Individual pastoralists) will have to decide whether to withdraw, seek other legal representation or, most likely, muddle through being self-represented," says NFF chief executive Matt Linnegar. … 
… But the Prime Minister defended the move, announced in the 2011 budget, saying it was the government's "anticipation" the funding cut would not "equate to respondents disengaging" from the native title process.  "We are talking about many respondents that are commercially viable entities . . . being able to deal with native title through their ordinary business costs," she said. 
Federal Court judge John Logan has made comments on the value of the legal aid for pastoralists, saying in an August judgment that it had done much to "dispel the tensions and anxiety (among pastoralists) . . . to result in the efficient progress and consensual resolution of a native title claim." … 
… Ms Roxon writes. "In accordance with the principles of the access to justice framework, we need to ensure that limited funds are directed to those most in need of assistance."
This is a highly questionable assertion given the degree to which Aborigines are assisted already: 
Every year, $100,000 of our taxes is spent for each remote indigenous Australian. In 2008-09 Australian government indigenous expenditure reached $22 billion. If these funds were ending the shameful dereliction of remote communities, they would be money well spent. But high spending has barely reduced extremes of dysfunction. On balance, it is perpetuating indigenous disadvantage. Trawling through government expenditures is not riveting, but if the festering sore of remote communities is not to go on and on, how public funding contributes to the culture of grog, ganja and gangs must be understood. 
The 2010 Indigenous Expenditure Report was prepared by the Productivity Commission for a Steering Committee of bureaucrats in charge of federal, state and territory indigenous policies. For the first time, we have an accounting of indigenous expenditure. In 2008-09 Australian governments spent $17 billion on indigenous persons accessing mainstream services and $5 billion on indigenous-only services. The report shows that every year this translates to an average of $40,000 for each indigenous Australian compared to $18,000 for each non-indigenous Australian. But these per capita figures conceal rather than reveal real indigenous expenditures. …
Regardless of the ability to pay, or whether one side is disadvantaged, it is nothing short of reprehensible to create a situation where one group is receiving taxpayer funding to launch legal proceedings against another which has to meet the costs of defending themselves.

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