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The Attorney-General has primary responsibility for the Native Title Act 1993 except those parts administered by the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

This department provides advice on the operation of the Act and native title policy nationally, and is responsible for native title reform.

There have been a number of key amendments to the Act to improve the operation of the native title system. Details of the current reforms are outlined below. Information on past reforms is available on the past native title reforms page.

On 3 August 2013, the Attorney-General and the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs announced final terms of reference for an Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) inquiry into specific areas of native title law. This followed the release on 7 June 2013 of draft terms of reference for public consultation. For more information, visit the Australian Law Reform Commission native title inquiry.

Native Title Amendment Bill 2012

On 6 June 2012 the former Attorney-General announced that the Australian Government will progress a number of amendments to the Native Title Act 1993.

On 28 November 2012, the former Attorney-General introduced the Native Title Amendment Bill 2012 into Parliament.

The Bill and the explanatory memorandum are available on the Parliament of Australia website.

The Attorney-General’s second reading speech is also available.

The Native Title Amendment Bill 2012 contains amendments to:

  • clarify the meaning of 'good faith' and associated amendments to the 'right to negotiate' provisions
  • enable parties to agree to disregard historical extinguishment of native title in areas such as parks and reserves
  • streamline Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) processes.

An exposure draft of the legislation was released on 21 September 2012 for a four-week consultation period.

Following introduction, the Bill was referred to the House Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

The submissions to the House Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs can be found at:

The submissions to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs can be found at:

Stakeholder submissions on the exposure draft legislation can be found below:

Email: native.title@ag.gov.au for more information about these amendments.

Institutional reforms

In early 2012, the Australian Government announced it would improve the efficiency of the native title system by implementing institutional reform. The reforms involved:

  • providing resourcing and staffing of the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) by the Federal Court administration, and consolidating the agencies' corporate services functions
  • transferring responsibility and resourcing for native title claims mediation and claim-related ILUA negotiation assistance to the Federal Court
  • reviewing expenditure and cost recovery related to the NNTT's discretionary functions.

The NNTT remains a statutory authority, and retains all other statutory functions. The roles of the NNTT President, members and Native Title Registrar continue to exist. Within an agreed budget, the Registrar continues to exercise powers relating to the day-to-day management of the administrative affairs of the Tribunal, and determining its staffing arrangements. Where possible, staff of the NNTT and the Federal Court are colocated.

The reforms result in a better alignment and allocation of functions, and a clearer focus on increasing the rate of claims resolution.

The reforms institute the recommendations of the Strategic Review of Small and Medium Agencies in the Attorney-General's portfolio (Skehill Review). They also build on 2009 reforms which gave the Federal Court a central role in managing native title claims.

The reforms are expected to generate $19m in savings over the next four years, to be redirected to the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory initiative.

The NNTT, the Federal Court and this department worked together closely to implement the reforms. Apart from the review of the NNTT's discretionary functions, implementation of the reforms concluded on 12 March 2013, with the commencement of the amendments to the Native Title Act 1993 made by the Courts and Tribunals Legislation Amendment (Administration) Act 2013. The review of the NNTT's discretionary functions is expected to be completed in the second half of 2013.

Amendments to tax law

The Australian Government has also announced that it will amend the tax law to clarify that native title benefits are not subject to income tax (including capital gains tax). This amendment will remove the longstanding uncertainty about the tax treatment of these benefits.

This change follows the 2010 Native Title, Indigenous Economic Development and Tax consultation paper. This paper is available on The Treasury website.

An exposure draft of the legislation was released for consultation on 27 July 2012 for a four-week consultation period. Details are available on The Treasury website.

The Tax Laws Amendment (2012 Measures No. 6) Bill 2012, which contain the provisions in respect of native title was introduced on 29 November 2012.

The Bill and the explanatory memorandum are available on the Parliament of Australia website.

The native title tax provisions are contained in Schedule 1 of the Bill and Chapter 1 of the explanatory memorandum.

The Tax Laws Amendment (2012 Measures No. 6) Bill 2012 was passed by the House of Representatives on 18 March 2013.

Connection policy research project

This department commissioned the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to research law, policy, practice, and stakeholder attitudes about the native title ‘connection’ test. The project drew on best practice emerging from alternative settlement processes.

This project will inform the government’s future policies on connection when entering as a respondent party into consent determinations.

The report is currently being finalised.

More information, including the project Terms of Reference, is available on the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies’ project website.