Relevance of these Issues

881. The Aim of this Part. In this passage Dr Bell describes Aboriginal experiences in Central Australia. These experiences are shared by other hunter-gatherer societies that have had to make, or endure, the transition to farming, mining or other commercial land uses. The shift away from a hunter-gatherer economy, and the subsequent destruction of hunting and fishing grounds to make way for towns and industrial development, have been accompanied by legal restrictions on the right of people to hunt and forage for subsistence purposes.[1455] Restrictions on foraging on land belonging to another are now usual. There has also been a realisation that steps must be taken to preserve endangered species. Rights to hunt and fish have been restricted further by governments in many countries in an attempt to regulate the commercial exploitation of the world’s natural resources. In the past 200 years Aboriginal people have seen their economic interests similarly affected. In many cases their land was taken away, or its productivity drastically affected by pastoral and mining activities.[1456] In more recent times Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights have been further whittled away by legislation.[1457] A balance should be struck between acknowledging the rights and interests of Aboriginal people, and other interests, including conservation and the management of natural resources. To some extent this is happening already. On the one hand, the right to pursue a traditional lifestyle, a right recognised by the Commission’s Terms of Reference, implies a right to use the land to forage and gather food for consumption. On the other hand, other factors, including the impact of new hunting techniques, and the need to regulate commercial exploitation of species, mean that no simple solution to the question of recognising traditional hunting and gathering rights is possible. It is important to determine whether a more equitable accommodation of interests than currently exists can be devised. Any such accommodation should take account of Aboriginal traditions and practices, the special relationship of Aboriginal people to the land, the fact that Aboriginal traditions may be changing, and the role of hunting and gathering in the economies of many Aboriginal communities. The role of governments vis-a-vis Aboriginal groups, who are seeking control over decisions that affect their lives, should also be reassessed.[1458] This part of the Report describes briefly Aboriginal hunting and fishing practices in Australia (Chapter 33), and whether they have a degree of recognition at common law (Chapter 34). The extent to which federal and state legislation supports or detracts from these interests is examined in Chapter 35. Finally, Chapter 36 considers the principles which should guide reforms aimed at recognising Aboriginal hunting, fishing and gathering practices.