THE National Farmers' Federation is calling on the Federal Government to review the decision to cease funding to respondents in native title claims from the beginning of next year, ensuring respondents have equal access to justice as claimants in the native title claim process.
"Farmers have been willing participants in native title claims and settlements since 1996, under a system that, to date, ensures both the claimant and the respondent have fair and equal access to assistance and legal representation," federation president Jock Laurie said.
"However the decision by the government means that from January 1, 2013, only native title claimants will continue to receive government support in having their claims heard. Respondents will now be left to foot the hefty bills for legal representation themselves or be left to represent themselves. Either way this move will create inequality between the treatment of claimants and respondents."
Mr Laurie believed this was severely jeopardising the goodwill of the current system for the sake of government cost cutting.
"By cutting funding for respondents, the government will save only $2.2 million over two years - hardly a vast sum of money for the government, yet vital funds for the more than 1300 respondents still to have their native title cases heard," he said.
"If funding for respondents is cut, momentum will be lost as the courts and other parties deal with an influx of self-represented farmers or legal representatives for a host of individuals - as opposed to the current system where one lawyer and one native title officer represents all of the pastoral respondents in one claim. Worse still for the government, this is likely to cost more than the $2.2 million they seek to save.
"With only an expected two years left to run in native title cases, we call on the government to reverse this decision and ensure the fair and equitable system that currently exists is able to continue."
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