Clearing the Aboriginal land claims backlog must be a NSW Government priority in 2016

The Auditor-General’s latest update on Aboriginal land claims shows that the Government must significantly increase the resources available for Crown Lands to address the backlog and deliver on the promise of land rights, says Jan Barham, Greens MP and spokesperson on Aboriginal Affairs and Crown Lands.

“The Auditor-General’s report on Trade and Investment shows that despite having enacted the Aboriginal Land Rights Act more than 30 years ago, successive governments’ failure to process tens of thousands of claims means that it isn’t delivering the opportunities for economic development and self-determination that should be available to Aboriginal people,” Ms Barham said.

“The Auditor-General’s repeated recommendation to clear this backlog can only be fulfilled if the Government delivers a significant increase in priority and resources for the processing of land claims, along with a constructive and transparent process for negotiating Aboriginal Land Agreements under the land rights amendments passed by the Parliament last year.

“In 2014-15 the number of unprocessed claims rose to more than 28,000, and 754 of those claims have been left unresolved for more than a decade.

“I welcome the Government’s effort to reduce the number of land claims that had been approved but weren’t transferred out of the Department, but there are still 220 approved claims covering land valued at $742 million that must be transferred to Aboriginal ownership as quickly as possible.

“In 2012 the Auditor-General called on the Government to develop a plan for addressing the backlog of Aboriginal land claims. Last year the Parliament passed legislation that will allow the negotiation of voluntary agreements between Government and Land Councils.

“Aboriginal land agreements create the possibility of addressing more than one claim at a time and finding a way forward that is agreeable to all stakeholders, but this framework needs to be backed up by a transparent, inclusive process for proceeding with those negotiations.

“Importantly, the Government must ensure that the 2016 Budget commits the funding and resources required to allow a much greater degree of effort at resolving claims, both through determining them individually and by entering negotiations for land agreements.

Ms Barham called on the new Crown Lands Minister, the Hon. Niall Blair, to reinvigorate the land rights movement in New South Wales and overcome the issues that have undermined the land claims process.

“During the previous Parliament the Government caused unnecessary damage to their credibility and standing with Aboriginal people and organisations by introducing legislation to extinguish land claims relating to coastal lands.

“I’ve been pleased that Minister Blair has engaged far more constructively on these issues since his appointment as Crown Lands Minister. With ongoing commitment and the right processes and resources, he has the opportunity to restore faith in the Aboriginal land rights framework by working hard to address the backlog of claims,” Ms Barham concluded.

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

Auditor-General’s Report Volume Twelve 2015: Trade and Investment