The First Principles Review of the Traditional Owner Settlement Act was initiated in in 2020, facilitated by the Federation as a partnership between the First Principles Review Committee (FPRC), which comprised Victorian Traditional Owners and individuals who work for Traditional Owner corporations, and the State. In broad terms, the Review was concerned with issues that relate to the principles and legislation that underpin Settlement Act agreements and the State’s settlement policy. This included examining:
i. the Settlement Act and certain aspects of government policy which do not accommodate aspirations of Traditional Owner groups; and
ii. changes sought to Settlement Act outcomes which require legislative change.
A joint report was produced by the FPRC and the State, making a series of joint and individual recommendations to the Victorian Attorney-General. Some key recommendations relate to:
- Access to natural resources
- Commercial use of natural resources
- Recognition of Traditional Owner rights and interests in water
- Calculation of compensation amounts, in light of the Timber Creek High Court Judgment
- Development of Crown Land, and the leasing and sale of Crown Land
- The treatment of Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)
- The capture of Existing Public Land Authorisations upon renewal.
The final Review was signed off by the FPRC in November 2021 but continued to be considered until March 2022 when it was to begin a Cabinet review process. The Review contains both jointly agreed recommendations and recommendations from either the State or the FPRC.
It was anticipated that the recommendations of the Review would be submitted to Cabinet for endorsement prior to the State election in November 2022. However, there has been no further progress.
While this has been a disappointment for the FPRC, the Federation has continued to press for further consideration of the First Principles Review recommendations, noting that the 2022 Victorian State budget indicated a willingness to continue to progress the work undertaken through the First Principles Review. This work would support Aboriginal communities to negotiate the Traditional Owner land rights that help communities realise the full benefit of their native title settlements.