8.1 ‘Native title’ and ‘native title rights and interests’ are defined in s 223(1) of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (‘Native Title Act’). The content of native title rights and interests is determined in accordance with the traditional laws and customs of the native title claim group. Section 223(2) of the Native Title Act provides a non-exhaustive list of some native title rights and interests. Section 225 of the Act requires a determination of the nature and extent of the native title rights and interests that are recognised.
8.2 The ALRC was asked to examine whether the Native Title Act should be clarified to provide that native title rights and interests ‘can include rights and interests of a commercial nature’. This chapter outlines the relevant provisions in the Native Title Act and case law to provide a context for the recommendations. Recommendation 8–1 draws on the approach to native title rights taken in Akiba v Commonwealth (‘Akiba HCA’). It recommends that s 223(2) of the Native Title Act be amended to confirm that native title rights and interests may comprise a broadly-framed right that may be exercised for any purpose, including commercial or non-commercial purposes where the evidence supports such a finding. The Act should further provide a non-exhaustive list of kinds of native title rights and interests, including trading rights and interests. The ALRC recommends that the terms ‘commercial purposes’ and ‘trading’ should not be defined in the Act.
8.3 The potential for cultural knowledge to be considered as a native title right and interest is discussed, and further examination of the issue is recommended.
Terms of Reference
8.4 The ALRC was directed, under the Terms of Reference, to inquire into and report on Commonwealth native title laws and legal frameworks in relation to ‘connection requirements relating to the recognition and scope of native title rights and interests, including … whether there should be … clarification that “native title rights and interests” can include rights and interests of a commercial nature’.
8.5 The Terms of Reference identify a range of factors for the ALRC to consider as context for its examination of ‘what, if any, changes could be made to improve the operation of Commonwealth native title laws and legal frameworks’. These factors include the capacity of native title to support indigenous economic development and to generate sustainable long-term benefits for Indigenous Australians, as well as delays to the resolution ofclaims caused by litigation. The recommendations in this chapter balance these considerations against the need for certainty for other interests in the native title system, and the need to encourage claims resolution.
8.6 The ALRC was asked to consider the Preamble and objects of the Native Title Act in making any recommendations. The guiding principles for this Inquiry comprise:
acknowledging the importance of the recognition of native title;
acknowledging all interests in the native title system;
encouraging the timely and just resolution of native title determinations;
adopting reforms which are consistent with Australia’s international obligations; and
promoting the sustainable, long-term social, economic and cultural development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The recognition of native title rights and interests of a commercial nature
8.7 The ALRC received a range of submissions that addressed the general question identified in the Terms of Reference as to whether there should be ‘clarification that “native title rights and interests” can include rights and interests of a commercial nature’ in the Native Title Act. The Terms of Reference were given to the ALRC before significant High Court judgments that dealt with relevant issues were handed down. The submissions therefore needed to be framed against the decision in Akiba HCA. 
8.8 Some stakeholders noted the need for the Native Title Act to give substance to the recognition of native title rights and interests. The National Native Title Council (‘NNTC’) submitted that:
Whilst the Preamble to the Act states that the legislation is a pathway to the ‘full recognition and status’ of Indigenous people, this has not been borne out with regard to Indigenous economic aspirations. The proposal would go some way to fulfilling such aspirations, squarely embedding commercial rights and interests within Australia’s native title regime.
8.9 Other stakeholders saw native title rights and interests of a commercial nature as assisting native title holders to develop economic opportunities. Central Desert Native Title Services (‘CDNTS’) submitted that:
Recognition that there were commercial activities and trade within and amongst Aboriginal groups and outsiders will provide native title groups with expanded opportunities for economic development and partnerships with existing businesses and industry.
8.10 There was general acknowledgment that following Akiba HCA native title can comprise rights and interests of a commercial nature.
8.11 The Government of Western Australia indicated that ‘Akiba demonstrates that such [commercial] rights are capable of recognition where the evidence supports a determination of commercial rights’. It cautioned against any clarification that went further than the law in Akiba HCA.
8.12 The Queensland Government also noted:
Given the current rate of resolution of native title claims and the associated outcomes being presently achieved, there is little basis for significant amendments to the NTA on those issues… The Federal Court has confirmed that native title rights may comprise commercial rights..
8.13 The Minerals Council of Australia (‘MCA’) supported ‘the recognition of commercial rights where they can be established under existing law’, but considered statutory clarification as unnecessary.
Akiba v Commonwealth (2013) 250 CLR 209.
Rec 8–1, see recommended text for s 223(2)(a).
Rec 8–1, see recommended text for s 223(2)(b).
See Ch 1.
The Terms of Reference were issued on 3 August 2013, four days before the High Court of Australia handed down its judgments in Akiba v Commonwealth (2013) 250 CLR 209.
National Native Title Council, Submission 57.
Central Desert Native Title Service, Submission 48.
Western Australian Government, Submission 43.
Queensland Government, Submission 28.
Minerals Council of Australia, Submission 65.