Government must act on Aboriginal land claim backlog

The NSW Government’s failure to transfer lands that are part of approved Aboriginal land claims is depriving Aboriginal people of significant opportunities for economic and social self-determination, says Jan Barham, Greens MP and spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs.

“The latest Auditor-General’s report on Trade and Investment shows that the Crown Lands Minister has yet to transfer approved land claims worth $719 million.

“The failure to transfer land worth almost three quarters of a billion dollars despite the claims having been approved is holding up Aboriginal Land Councils from being able to engage in important work that would contribute to the wellbeing of Aboriginal people,” Ms Barham said.

Ms Barham noted that in addition to the incomplete transfers of approved claims, the Auditor-General estimated that at the Government’s current pace, it would take 122 years to clear the backlog of undetermined Aboriginal land claims.

“Two years ago the Auditor-General told the Government it needed a plan for reducing the number of unprocessed claims. There are 504 claims that have been waiting for determination for more than a decade, and a total of more than 25,000 land claims still need to be determined, yet the Minister for Crown Lands hasn’t put forward a plan for improving the processing of claims.

“The only effort we’ve seen from Minister Humphries has been an effort to restrospectively rule out claims relating to coastal lands in the disgraceful Bill that the Government was forced to withdraw last month.”

Ms Barham welcomed the recent amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act that would allow voluntary agreements to be negotiated as a way of resolving land claims, but warned that this process should not be treated as a solution to the failure of Crown Lands in dealing with land claims across the state.

“The amendments made by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs provide a new pathway that Aboriginal Land Councils may choose to take up. But if the alternative is for claims to be left unprocessed by the Government for years or even decades, then there is no way the agreements can be regarded as voluntary.

“More than thirty years ago this state enacted a system of Aboriginal land rights in recognition of the historic dispossession and disadvantage. The Government, and in particular the Crown Lands Minister, needs to get serious about fulfilling the promise of land rights,” Ms Barham concluded.

Auditor-General’s 2014 Report on Trade and Investment

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