Tears were shed in the public galleries and outside Parliament today as Premier Colin Barnett released a draft Bill recognising Noongar people as the traditional owners of the South West of WA.
Mr Barnett described the Bill as the “centrepiece” of the $1.3 billion settlement of native title claims over Perth and the South West, the biggest in Australian history involving 200,000sqm of land and 40,000 Noongar people.
He said the Bill, which does not create any land rights or have any impact on WA laws, was “largely symbolic” but was nonetheless an important step toward reconciliation and a public mark of respect to Noongar people.
The Bill is now open to public comment but Mr Barnett said he did not expect it to change much because it was the result of extensive consultation with the Noongar community.
If the native title offer is accepted by the Noongar people, a final Bill would then go to Cabinet and be introduced to Parliament.
Today’s draft Noongar (Koorah, Nitja, Boordahwan) (Past, Present, Future) Recognition Bill 2014 recognises them as the traditional owners of the South West and acknowledges their unique contribution to the "heritage, cultural identity and economy of the State".
Through tears, 79-year-old Noongar woman Janet Hayden said outside Parliament the day had been a long time coming.
“It’s a total relief because we are walking through these doors here and we can see that something’s been done through the Barnett Government and I congratulate him for what he’s achieved,” she said.
“I think we have started the road to recovery for our people and that’s what it’s all about. I think it’s a tremendous step.”
Ms Hayden said the recognition would act as a powerful force for young Noongars.
“It’s giving them hope because now they can say ‘look, we don’t need to get onto a football field to be recognised, we can walk down the street and be recognised’ and that’s what it’s all about,” she said.
Under the native title offer, made in July, about 40,000 Noongar people will receive an indexed sum of $50 million each year for 12 years into a perpetual trust for economic projects and cultural and social programs.
In return native title claims will be withdrawn over 106 local government areas.
The trust capital would be preserved and accumulate under the management of a board of trustees, including members from the Government and Noongar leadership.
Mr Barnett said it was the first time legislation had been presented to an Australian parliament formally recognising an Aboriginal group as traditional owners.
“The Bill is largely symbolic but symbolism is important in terms of the self respect for Aboriginal people and the respect and acknowledgment of the wider community,” he said.
The South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council has been negotiating the landmark deal for several years and will assist with the consultation process.