Oxfam calls on NSW government to respect cultural fishing rights

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 04 Nov 2022

Oxfam Australia has condemned a renewed attempt by the NSW government to target, harass and prosecute Aboriginal cultural fishers who are already massively over-represented in fines and prosecutions.

Ahead of the release of an inquiry report into cultural fishing on Monday, the government is proposing an amendment for debate next week that would expand search powers for fisheries officers without the protections contained in police powers. It also expands the definition of a premises.

Ngarra Murray, Executive Lead of Oxfam’s First People’s Program said this amendment will reinforce the unfair targeting of Aboriginal cultural fishers who are exercising their rights under the Native Title Act and continuing their cultural traditions that have been practised for thousands of years.

“The Fisheries Management Amendment (Enforcement Powers) Bill 2022 has been tabled in the last sitting of Parliament before the March state election, indicating that the government may be seeking to create a “wedge” issue that is based on race,” she said.

“The Premier Mr Perrottet has said he is committed to closing the gap and yet his government has drafted this amendment without any consultation with the First Peoples of the State. It is an amendment that will exacerbate the existing over-representation of Aboriginal people in fisheries-related prosecutions and criminal convictions.”

As an organisation dedicated to poverty eradication, Oxfam believes that access to cultural fishing and reducing over-representation in the criminal justice system are crucial pathways for the coastal Aboriginal communities in the state.

Aboriginal people in NSW are 10-times over-represented in fishing charges since 2009, and more than 20 times over-represented in criminal convictions, according to data obtained by Oxfam from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

Oxfam calls on Labor and the minor parties to oppose the amendment and initiate respectful consultation on the needs and aspirations of coastal Aboriginal communities regarding fishing. Through its partnerships with these communities, Oxfam has gained a deep understanding of the cultural and health benefits for First Peoples engaged in cultural fishing, and yet these positive practices are criminalised in NSW.

Oxfam also calls on political parties to support the introduction of the Section 21AA cultural fishing amendment which was passed by the Parliament in 2009 and yet has never been allowed to commence. This would bring NSW into line with other States and Territories, and the Federal native title law.

For interviews, contact Lucy Brown on 0478 190 099 / lucyb@oxfam.org.au