Hon Colin Barnett MEc MLA

Hon Colin Barnett MEc MLA

Former Premier; Minister for Tourism; Science

    Noongar Recognition Bill 2015 second reading speech

    14/10/2015 4:00 PM



    It is with great pride that I bring the Noongar (Koorah, Nitja, Boordahwan) (Past, Present, Future) Recognition Bill 2015 to this Parliament.


    The Bill is the first piece of legislation in the history of this Parliament to include the language of those people who occupied the land on which this house stands thousands of years before European settlement.


    The Noongar Recognition Bill is a product of the native title negotiations that ran from 2009 to 2015.  The State's offer, was considered and accepted by all six Noongar claim groups at authorisation meetings held in 2015.


    The agreement entered into by the State Government and Noongar people is the most comprehensive native title agreement in Australian history, comprising the full and final resolution of all native title claims in the South West of Western Australia including Perth, in exchange for a comprehensive settlement package.


    The package provides the Noongar people with $1.3 billion in land and other assets and benefits exchange for the surrender of native title claims over 200,000 square kilometres of land in the South West. Under the overall agreement, an independent Noongar Boodja Trust will be established into which assets will be transferred over 12 years.  This includes funding of $50 million per annum for 12 years.  Up to 320,000 hectares of Crown land will also be transferred to the trust.


    The agreement affects around 30,000 Noongar people. It is ultimately an investment in both the Noongar community and the shared future of the Western Australian community as a whole. 


    The agreement also sponsors the emergence of seven new Noongar corporations across the South West, with the critical obligation to bring a new Noongar "voice" into partnerships with government and the rest of the community.   


    On 8 June this year Noongar Leaders and the State Government signed and executed the six Indigenous Land Use Agreements that comprise the South West Native Title Settlement.  They  were then lodged with the National Native Title Tribunal on 29 June. On 16 September the Tribunal commenced a three month notification period where objections to the agreements can be lodged in accordance with the Commonwealth Native Title Act. Once the agreements have been successfully registered by the Tribunal, the South West Settlement will commence, which, at the earliest, will be July 2016.


    At its simplest, this Bill provides Noongar people with symbolic recognition as traditional owners of the South West.


    However, I believe this Bill has greater significance than simply one element of a native title agreement and will ultimately will stand alone as an historic, overdue recognition of the Noongar people.  


    I am very proud that we as a Parliament and as a community are able to embrace the opportunity that has arisen from the native title agreement to seek this Parliament's recognition in perpetuity of Noongar culture and history.




    According to their traditional beliefs, Noongar people have lived in the South West of Western Australia since time immemorial.  Archaeological evidence from Perth and Albany confirms that the region has been occupied for at least 45,000 years.


    The Noongars shared an ancient body of laws and customs that prescribed rights and obligations in relation to all aspects of their society and landscape.   For those Noongars living in the Perth area, the main source of food came from the sea, the Swan River and the extensive system of freshwater lakes that once lay between the coast and the Darling Escarpment.


    Noongar groups further south and east lived off the resources of the Karri and Jarrah forests. Those in the southern coastal area around Albany built fish traps and hunted turtle. To the north and east, they lived in the semi-arid regions of what is now the wheat belt.


    Strong spiritual beliefs governed their views of the world, and mythical creatures, stories and obligations were associated with many geographical features of their landscape.


    British Arrival

    Official British settlement of Western Australia occurred first in Albany in 1826, with the remainder proclaimed a British colony in 1829.


    The early years of colonisation were a one-sided struggle over land and resources in the South West, together with the devastating spread of some introduced diseases. Despite this, most Noongar survivors stayed on areas of their own country, keeping family connections and culture alive. Many camped and maintained traditional practices while clearing country for farming and becoming valued employees due to their bush skills and knowledge of country.


    European encroachment expanded throughout the rest of the 19th century, which continued to affect Noongar culture and social organisation.


    At the start of the 20th century, Aboriginal people were still documented as living across the South West, some in missions, some living in camps, many working for settlers, particularly on farms, and many maintaining traditional ways of life.


    Many European settlers relied heavily on the Noongars' knowledge of their country; Noongars were employed to carry mail, to accompany explorers, and to search for missing livestock.  Occasionally, they helped search for missing children or escorted prisoners.  In addition, some people were called on as interpreters and in many regions police employed Aboriginal people as aides to maintain peace between Aboriginal groups. Others worked as wood cutters, charcoal burners and prospectors.


    During this period, some Noongar people took up land grants in their own right, and adopted some European farming practices.


    The Early Twentieth Century

    At the turn of the century, the economic climate in Western Australia deteriorated and the attitude to Aboriginal people hardened.  Diggers who had come from interstate and across the world seeking fortune through the gold rushes of the late 1800s now found themselves without work and many drifted to the South West. This meant an increase in farming enterprises and less demand for Noongar labour. Noongars were dismissed from work and ordered off the land.


    The pressure on Noongar people escalated with the emergence of the 1905 Aborigines Act. The Act, with subsequent amendments, remained in place until 1963 and provided for a repressive and coercive system of control over all aspects of the lives of Aboriginal Western Australians. 


    From this point on, administration of Aboriginal matters was managed by a series of government departments which, had the mandate to 1) segregate Aboriginal people from the broader population, and 2) remove children, particularly 'part-Aborigines', so they could be assimilated into the white population.


    The 1905 Aborigines Act applied to all Aboriginal people in Western Australia but, by virtue of geography, the Noongars were very much affected by the Act's enforcement.


    Noongar people were separated from the wider community, confined to 'Native Camps' or reserves on the outskirts of towns, and subject to curfews requiring them to vacate town areas by 6pm or face arrest. They were excluded from jobs, and could not move to another area without the approval of a 'Protector' – usually the local policeman, who could exercise a wide range of powers supported by the courts.


    I am mindful that the South West Settlement negotiations completed this year inevitably involved the sons and daughters and grandchildren of people whose lives were directly impacted upon by the Act and other government policies that followed. One hundred and ten years after the Act was put in place, there is no question its impact still resonates through Western Australia society.



    There are today around 30,000 Western Australians with Noongar ancestry. Despite the history of oppression and marginalisation, Noongar people have survived and continued to assert their rights and identity. They have a unique, vibrant, identifiable and strong culture existing as one of the largest Aboriginal cultural blocs in Australia. This is reflective of the immense strength, support and dynamism of Noongar family groups, most of whom can trace their lineage back to the early 1800s.


    At the heart of the South West Settlement is an acknowledgment and honouring of the Noongar people as the traditional owners of this land.


    The Noongar (Koorah, Nitja, Boordahwan) (Past, Present and Future) Recognition Bill recognises:

    "The living cultural, spiritual, familial and social relationship that the Noongar people have with the Noongar lands, and the significant and unique contribution that the Noongar people have made, are making, and will continue to make, to the heritage, cultural identity, community and economy of the State".


    It is this Bill that I now ask this house to support.