The challenge we face
Aboriginal communities along the New South Wales coast are fighting for their right to continue millennia-old cultural practices and fish in their traditional waters. They face harassment and unfair persecution from the authorities.
This is why community organizations, including Oxfam, have penned an open letter to the NSW Government asking them to end this discrimination.
In the lead-up the state elections we can make a difference and support cultural fishing rights – will you join us and sign the open letter?
Sign the open letter
All along the NSW coast, an intense and ugly battle has been unfolding between State authorities and Aboriginal people who want to continue healthy and culturally rich fishing traditions that have been practised for tens of thousands of years.
Harsh, unjust and short-sighted enforcement by police and fisheries officers has seen First Nations people targeted, harassed, fined, prosecuted and jailed in numbers that are massively disproportionate compared to their population.
This is despite the NSW Parliament passing an amendment in 2009 to recognise cultural fishing, in line with the federal Native Title Act. Known as Section 21AA, this amendment has never entered into force. Since then, more than 560 charges have been levied against Aboriginal people, making up 33% of fisheries-related charges. This means Aboriginal people are 10 times over-represented compared to their population size.
In August 2022 alone, 45 Aboriginal people were facing prosecution for fisheries offences in NSW. This imbalance is even greater for criminal convictions.
Aboriginal people make up 3.4 per cent of the NSW population but represent 80% of jail terms for fisheries offences since 2009, and 60% of sentences served in the community. Some of these sentences involved just several kilograms of seafood, a sliver of the massive tonnage awarded to industry.
A recent NSW parliamentary inquiry confirmed these injustices, calling the enforcement “unacceptable and creating perverse outcomes inconsistent with the NSW Government's commitments to the Closing the Gap Agreement”. It challenged the government to review and withdraw all penalty notices issued to Aboriginal people on the South Coast who were found to be practising cultural fishing.
We are calling on all political parties and candidates in this election to end this sorry saga and begin a new chapter for the First Peoples of the State, with a firm commitment to the following action plan:
1. Support the immediate introduction of the cultural fishing amendment, Section 21AA
2. Cancel all existing prosecutions and set up a review of all convictions since 2009 to withdraw those against Aboriginal individuals deemed to have been practising cultural fishing
3. Amend State laws to provide for a community-held licence, which would operate within commercial quotas
4. Recognise historic and ongoing dispossession of First Peoples’ lands and waters, and the consequences, by establishing a substantial economic development fund to enable Aboriginal organisations and fishers to participate in this industry, and
5. Develop a long-term plan with Aboriginal people and organisations for joint management of the NSW Marine Estate, including fisheries.
NSW Aboriginal Fishing Rights Group • Danny Chapman, Chairman, NSW Aboriginal Land Council • Tony McAvoy SC Katungul Aboriginal Corporation Regional Health and Community Services
Please sign the open letter and make cultural fishing a priority at this state election.