Aboriginal Land Agreements
The NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (ALRA) allows the NSW Government and Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs) to enter into voluntary and legally binding agreements to resolve land claims, reducing the need for costly and lengthy land claim determinations. These are called Aboriginal Land Agreements (ALAs).
Importantly, Aboriginal Land Agreements can settle multiple land claims at the same time, rather than the original process of determining claims one at a time. These agreements can also include financial payments, and land swaps that may include transfers of unused Crown land that has not yet been claimed.
Without limiting the matters that may be included in an Aboriginal Land Agreement, such an agreement may make provision for or with respect to the following:
- Financial or other considerations
- Exchange, transfer or lease of land
- Conditions or restrictions on the use of any land to which the agreement relates
- Joint access to and management of land
- Undertakings by an Aboriginal Land Council or the Crown Lands Minister with regard to the lease, transfer, management or use of any land
- The duration of the agreement and the resolution of disputes.
In 2016 the NSW Government approved a Negotiation Framework for ALAs to ensure agreements are negotiated fairly and equitably, and to maximise the likely success of negotiations.
The framework, which was agreed on with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, aims to:
- Speed up the processing of land claims
- Provide more sustainable social, cultural and economic outcomes for LALCs and Aboriginal communities from the return of land
- Provide greater certainty to all parties over Crown land.
In 2016, the NSW Government commenced the Land Negotiation Program, which will facilitate the transfer of Crown land no longer required by the NSW Government, to local councils and LALCs. In dealings with LALCs, Aboriginal Land Agreements are used as part of this process.
ALAs are being used in the Land Negotiation Program in four pilot locations – the (Sydney) Northern Beaches, Federation, Tamworth and Tweed Local Government Areas. Other smaller, separate negotiations are under way at Eden, Brewarrina, the Central Coast and Griffith. The Government has invited other LALC’s and Local Councils to participate in the Land Negotiation Program through an expression of interest process in 2017. As a result, further ALA negotiations will commence in 2018.
The NSW Government recognises not all LALCs are ready to participate in land negotiations. Funding has been approved for capacity building to ensure LALCs are equipped to negotiate agreements. The funding can, for example, be used for legal and planning advice or to employ a professional negotiator to act on the LALC’s behalf.
Aboriginal Land Agreements have the potential to facilitate the vesting of more land in LALCs; that is, the transfer of more land to Aboriginal communities in NSW. Negotiated settlements will enable LALCs to realise the economic opportunity land ownership brings, as well as provide a comprehensive settlement of social, cultural, financial and environmental issues.