Following public outcry that First Nations peoples face a disproportionate rate of fishing-related charges, the NSW Parliament has passed a resolution supporting cultural fishing and calling for a review into prosecutions.
In late November, the NSW Legislative Council passed a motion calling on the state government to review all fines and prosecutions launched against Indigenous Australian fishers to ensure genuine cultural fishing is recognised and not deemed illegal.
In addition, the motion noted that while a 2009 amendment to the Fisheries Management Act recognised cultural fishing, 12 years later the amendment still hadn’t fully begun. It also called on the government to start its provisions.
Liberal Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) Shayne Mallard said the NSW Government did want to see the provisions begin, “but the landscape is very complex”.
He said the provisions would remove take and possession limits of fish from applying to Indigenous people, unless limits are specifically prescribed in a cultural fishing regulation.
Mr Mallard said after consultation took place, stakeholders opposed the statewide introduction of the provisions, preferring instead to develop local management plans to recognise the differences between Indigenous communities’ cultural activities.
He said the government is developing such plans and the pilot is due to start in Hastings and Tweed in early 2022.
Labor MLC Mick Veitch, who moved the motion, noted this trial is coming up.
“But, seriously, it has been 12 years – that is just too long and something must happen sooner rather than later,” he said.
Region Media has previously reported that statewide data suggests Indigenous people face a disproportionate rate of fishing-related charges and incarceration because of those offences relative to the size of their population.
“The NSW Aboriginal Fishing Rights Group has been lobbying the NSW Government for more than 10 years to recognise South Coast people’s cultural fishing rights, and it has fallen on deaf ears,” said Yuin Nation elder Wally Stewart.
“The amount of damage that NSW Fisheries has done to our communities on the South Coast of NSW is appalling.”
Wamba Wamba and Yorta Yorta woman Ngarra Murray, executive lead of Oxfam Australia’s First Peoples Program, said the government response should also involve substantial initiatives to enable First Peoples fishers to obtain a share of commercial quotas so they can carry out their traditional activities in a meaningful and sustainable manner.
“Without a program to engage First Peoples in the commercial industry in a meaningful way, the government’s efforts towards these communities will be mere tokenism,” she said.
“Commercial quotas were distributed when Aboriginal people were not even recognised as citizens of this country, and the ongoing profits flowing to non-Indigenous owners are another form of dispossession and marginalisation for First Peoples.”