On July 1 2022, GBK achieved an important milestone – it became the Native Title Service Provider (NTSP) for the Torres Strait Region.
The transition of NTRB responsibilities from the Commonwealth (through the Torres Strait Regional Authority) to a community-based organisation aligns with the aspirations of GBK, our PBCs and the native title holders of the Torres Strait region for greater self-determination.
Our Role as the Native Title Service Provider
As the NTSP for the region, GBK is responsible for assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with all aspects of native title under the Native Title Act.
Facilitation and assistance:
GBK provides assistance to native title interest holders in relation to native title applications, future acts, agreements, rights of access and other matters.
GBK can certify applications for native title determinations and certify applications for the registration of Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs).
GBK promotes agreement and mediate disputes between PBCs, native title groups and native title holders.
GBK ensures that people with a possible native title interest are informed of other claims and of future acts, and the time limits for responding to these.
GBK can be a party to ILUAs or other agreements as required.
GBK provides a process that allows PBCs and native title holders to seek a review of its decisions and actions that affect them.
Seeking Assistance from GBK?
Our Request for Facilitation and Assistance Policy is set out in GBK’s Policies and Procedures Relating to the Performance of representative body functions under the Native Title Act 1993 document.
It guides GBK when making decisions about providing assistance to a group, an individual or an external body in relation to a native title matter. This includes decisions in relation to:
Whether or not to provide assistance to a native title group in relation to a matter;
The type and extent of assistance to be provided to a native title group in relation to a matter; and
The terms and conditions that should apply to the grant of assistance.
A copy of the Policy, including information about how to request a review of the decision, can be downloaded here: GBK Performance of NTSP Functions Policy V1
Post-Determination Intramural Disputes
GBK has a specific Dispute Resolution Policy for Post-Determination Intramural Disputes.
A copy of the policy can be downloaded here: GBK Post-Determination Dispute Resolution Policy V1.
Post-Determination Intramural Disputes are disputes about traditional ownership of land where the land is subject to a determination of native title which recognises communal native title rights and interests.
GBK acknowledges the frustration, tension and pain disputes can cause to individuals and families and the detrimental impact they may have on community harmony.
GBK is of the view that dispute resolution must lead to lasting outcomes and must not do more harm. Most importantly, dispute resolution outcomes must be accepted and owned by all parties, as much as that is possible.
GBK is therefore committed to promoting, and assisting with, dispute resolution processes that follow, or are based on, Aboriginal laws and customs and Torres Strait Ailan Kastom, that is, traditional processes.
Where a PBC Rule Book sets out a dispute resolution process that incorporates the traditional process, it is the process in the PBC Rule Book that must be followed. This position is reflected in GBK’s Post-Determination Intramural Dispute Resolution Policy. The policy has unanimously been endorsed by GBK’s board of directors on 12 October 2022.
If you wish to seek GBK’s Post-Determination dispute resolution assistance, please submit the application attached to the Policy .
Traditional Boundaries Project
Disputes over who is the traditional landowner of a parcel of land are common in the Torres Strait region.
The disputes can have a negative impact on community harmony and on the work of Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs).
In 2015, GBK developed a project that aims to help minimise or address such disputes. Developing the project was a priority for GBK’s directors who often experience the impact the disputes have in their own communities.
The project is called the Traditional Boundaries Project.
The project aims to provide each inhabited island with a written record and a map of their traditional boundaries that have been handed down through oral history and stories and practiced throughout generations.
GBK is rolling the project out by cluster groups. To date, GBK has worked with six communities and the project is completed, or is nearing completion, over Ugar, Boigu, Iama, Warraber, Masig and Poruma.
Each project still has some outstanding disputes that require to be resolved before the projects are fully completed.
Between 2023 to 2025, GBK plans to roll out the project across the remaining communities.
Once the project is completed, PBCs will be able to distribute compensation payments they receive to the relevant traditional landowners.
Having internal boundaries resolved also gives certainty to PBCs when they comply with their consultation and consent obligations under the Native Title (Prescribed Bodies Corporate) Regulations 1999.
If you would like to find out more about the Traditional Boundaries Project, please have a look at:
- Mr Keith Pabai’s explanation at a AIATSIS native title conference in June 2018 of how the Malu Ki’ai (Torres Strait Islanders) Corporation RNTBC (the PBC for Boigu) and the Boigu community resolved disputes by mapping their traditional boundaries: Dispute resolution in the Torres Strait: How we combined the two laws and practices | AIATSIS which includes an audio recording of his presentation.
- Mr Seriako Stephen and former National Native Title Tribunal Member James McNamarra spoke at the native title conference in June 2016 how the Ugar (Torres Strait Islander) Corporation RNTBC (the PBC for Ugar) resolved their traditional boundaries. You can read about the Ugar project in this paper written by the National Native Title Tribunal and published in the Native Title News in December 2015: “Give a little, take a little”: the Ugar traditional boundaries project.
What is native title?
Native title is the recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have rights and interests to land and waters according to their traditional laws and customs as set out in Australian Law. Native Title is governed by the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth).
Native title was introduced into law as a result of the historic Mabo decision in which the High Court ruled that Australia was not terra nullius – a land belonging to no-one – at the time of European colonisation.
This decision recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as being Australia’s First Peoples and that their rights and interests in the land and waters may continue to exist despite settlement.
Native title comes in two forms:
- Non-exclusive possession means that the native title co-exists with other types of property rights
- Exclusive possession means that the right to possess and occupy an area is to the exclusion of all others
If an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person or group believes it holds native title rights or interests to an area, it needs to submit an application for the determination of native title to the Federal Court, which is responsible for managing all aspects of native title.
During a Native Title native title proceeding, the persons making the native title application (claimants) have to prove the existence of native title. The claim group needs to prove as a matter of fact that they do possess rights and interests in the land or waters, according to their traditional laws and customs. They must also prove those laws and customs have continued uninterrupted since European colonisation. The evidence is usually provided through anthropological research reports and through oral evidence provided by the claimants themselves.
What is a Future Act?
A future act is a proposed activity that has the ability to affect native title rights and interests.
A future act activity can occur on land and or waters and includes:
- Mining and exploration
- Public works and infrastructure – roads, water pipelines, electricity towers
- Public housing
- Fishing and water access licenses
- Tourism activities
Native title holders have certain rights when it comes to the future acts processes. These include the rights to comment, be consulted, to object and to negotiate.
The activation of each right depends upon the type of future act activity that is being proposed.
What is an Indigenous Land Use Agreement?
An Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) is a voluntary agreement between a native title group and others about the way lands or waters are to be managed and used.
ILUAs can be made in relation to:
- Future development arrangements
- The ways native title can co-exist with other rights
- Access to an area
- Extinguishment of native title
GBK can provide assistance to native title claimants and native title owners in relation to the claims process, Future Acts and ILUAs. For more information Contact Us.