Aboriginal communities in NSW can claim land to compensate them for historic dispossession of land and to support their social and economic development.
The NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (ALRA) was introduced to compensate Aboriginal people in New South Wales for their past dispossession of their land.
The ALRA enables Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs) to claim Crown Land, that is, land in NSW that is owned and managed by the state government. LALCs can have land transferred to them in freehold title if at the time of the claim the land is, among other requirements:
- Able to be lawfully sold or leased
- Not lawfully used or occupied
- Not needed nor likely to be needed as residential lands
- Not needed nor likely to be needed for an essential public purpose including nature conservation.
The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has no role or power to determine Aboriginal Land claims in NSW. The role of determining land claims resides with the Minister administering the Crown Lands Management Act 2016, currently the Minister for Lands and Forestry.
Successful claims result in the transfer of land in freehold title to the claimant LALC.
LALCs can develop and/or sell land based on the decision of their members and with the approval of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC). However, land acquired under the NSW land claims process after 1994 is subject to native title and the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993.
LALC land acquired under the land claims process is held in freehold and is subject to all prevailing planning, environmental management, and cultural heritage legislation.
The land claim process in NSW is summarised below:
- A Local Aboriginal Land Council, or the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council on behalf of a Local Aboriginal Land Council, may make claims over Crown Land not needed for an essential public purpose or legally used and/or occupied.
- Land claims are lodged with the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 and referred to the Minister administering the Crown Lands Management Act 2016 for investigation and determination.
- Once the Ministers administering the Crown Lands Management Act 2016 are satisfied that either whole or part of the land is claimable or not, the land is either granted or refused.
- Granted land is then transferred to the relevant Local Aboriginal Land Council as freehold title.
- Local Aboriginal Land Councils in NSW are not required to establish cultural association with lands when making land claims.