Greens call on Premier Baird to withdraw attack on Aboriginal Land Rights

Jan Barham, the Greens NSW spokesperson on Aboriginal Affairs, has called on Premier Mike Baird to withdraw his Government’s Crown Lands Bill that would extinguish Aboriginal land claims relating to coastal areas.

“The Greens are appalled that the State Government has introduced legislation that removes the rights of Aboriginal people to make claims over land in the coastal area. The Premier needs to take action and withdraw this disgraceful Bill,” Ms Barham said.

“The Crown Lands Amendment (Public Ownership of Beaches and Coastal Lands) Bill was introduced by Minister Kevin Humphries on 21st October without any consultation with Aboriginal people.

“The Minister has wrongly claimed that public access to beaches and coastal areas is disadvantaged if this legislation is not enacted. In his speech to the Parliament, the Minister said that the Land and Environment Court’s granting of land at Red Rock near Coffs Harbour presented a risk for the ongoing public ownership of beaches and important coastal lands. What he failed to mention was that the Red Rock land grant included an easement provision to ensure public access to the beach in perpetuity.

“The reality is that in a number of cases, Aboriginal Land Councils have made land claims relating to coastal areas with the support of the broader community, to that ensure environmental and cultural values are protected and future use and enjoyment is preserved.

Ms Barham warned that the Government’s legislation is inconsistent with key principles of law, as it is discriminatory and affects claims that were made under the current legislative framework.

“The Bill only affects the interests and right to claim land of Aboriginal people while protecting the interests of other Crown Land users, and is therefore discriminatory.

“It includes a retrospective element that would affect many of the claims that have been lodged but left undetermined by the Government since the Aboriginal Land Rights Act was introduced in 1983. There is currently a backlog of over 26,000 claims that need to be settled, and the Government now proposes to interfere with the rights relating to claims that were made years – and in some cases decades – ago.

“The definition of what constitutes the beach and coastal land in this Bill is also vague and inconsistent with existing law, and would likely have a broad negative impact on Aboriginal people’s right to claim vacant Crown lands.

“It is shocking that this Government would introduce laws that attack the rights of Aboriginal people to make land claims. To misrepresent this as being about protecting public rights to access the beach is disgraceful.

“This term of Government has seen an unprecedented level of consultation with Aboriginal people, communities and organisations by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Victor Dominello. But the Minister for Lands, Kevin Humphries has taken a grossly disrespectful approach that jeopardises the Government’s good work and standing on issues affecting Aboriginal people,” Ms Barham concluded.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891