Sovereignty protest at Native Title Conference

Anthony Templeton

Townsville Bulletin 6th June 2012

Protests broke out at the Annual National Native Title conference yesterday, with a small band of activists claiming legislation doesn't do enough to recognise Aboriginal sovereignty.

Hundreds of indigenous representatives and lawyers from across Australia attended the first day of the conference, held at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre, to learn about policy and legal issues for native title applications.

Despite promoting the economic and social benefits of successful native title claims for indigenous communities, the conference was targeted by protesters.

Townsville-based indigenous leader Dr Gracelyn Smallwood led the protest in an attempt to highlight flaws with native title legislation.

"If Eddie Mabo were alive to day he would be protesting with us," she said.

"Native title is not land rights."

Dr Smallwood said the former Howard government's decision to amend native title legislation decreased the chances of indigenous communities having a successful claim.

"They're paying white anthropologists and lawyers to endorse native title," she said.

"Because they removed our ancestors from their homelands (stolen generations), they have trouble proving their bloodlines."

North Queensland Land Council chief executive Dewayne Mundraby said the conference had attracted visitors from all parts of Australia.

"I think the fact that we have people that have come thousands of kilometres to be here shows the conference has been a success," he said.

"We have had all of Australia's 11 native title representative bodies here to discuss policy, cultural and legal issues surrounding native title claims.

"There's still (today) to go, but the workshops available have been popular and helped share their experiences with different aspects of bringing forward a claim."

Mr Mundraby said he was not concerned about the protests.

"Everybody is allowed to have their views in a democratic country," he said.

"There are some constructive criticisms (made by the protesters) we can probably learn from.

"It didn't make the day negative in any way."

Protester Virginia Wyles said native title had turned families against each other.

"To hell with money and royalties, we want our economic independence," she said.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon is expected to address the conference today.