Aboriginal Land Rights Issues and their relationship to National Park Dedication and Management and the Conservation of Natural Values within NSW

NATIONAL PARKS ASSOCIATION of NSW Inc.

Policy No: 21

 

GENERAL POLICY POSITION

NPA recognises

In relation to land ownership

In relation to land management

[The general policy below outlines NPA’s support for Aboriginal land rights within NSW. We hope and trust that there will be little or no conflict between the goals and aspirations of Aboriginal people and conservation requirements within this State. There are areas where NPA considers that ownership and management conditions require stating explicitly to avoid any misunderstandings. Further, we feel that NSW Government legislation requires amendment to correct current defects in relation to the land claims process under the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act (1983) and certain aspects of the Aboriginal Ownership provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act (1974). Finally, as with many policy documents and position statements (such as NPA’s constitution), specific policies are required in case problems and conflicts do occur.]

SPECIFIC POLICIES

Policy on land claims made under the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act (1983) (ALR Act)

Background

NPA considers that the conflict between the NPA and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) on the one hand and Aboriginal land councils on the other, over claims for much of the remaining vacant Crown land of high nature conservation value within NSW to be most unfortunate.

Almost invariably, these lands have low economic value, as they constitute the remnants following more than 200 years of continuous and systematic disposal of lands by successive Governors and State governments. However, despite their low economic value, they often have very important scenic and nature conservation values, and as such would make extremely valuable additions to the National Parks estate.

The initial intent of the ALR Act was that granted lands have inalienable community-freehold title. This was amended in 1990, so that granted lands (both before and after this time point) have fee simple freehold title - meaning that these lands can be bought and sold. Due to high land capability constraints, and the need to pay council rates and government charges, local land councils may feel pressure to sell these lands so as to provide better opportunities for economic return for their people. In the process, granted land becomes subject to likely development for rural / residential subdivision and industrial uses (two of the many possible uses). The proposed sale (1999) of the Terrey Hills lands by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council is an example of this process.

NPA’s preferred position is that these lands of high conservation value should remain in public ownership and be dedicated as conservation reserves. However, NPA believes there are ways to fulfill both Aboriginal and conservation needs in relation to this issue.

Firstly, for lands of high conservation value granted to date, NPA believes:

Secondly, for lands of high nature conservation value currently under claim or liable to claim in the future, NPA believes:

Policy on ownership issues related to Aboriginal-owned National Parks

As indicated above NPA supports the spirit of Aboriginal ownership and management of appropriate (defined in terms of Schedule 14 of the Aboriginal Ownership provisions of the NP&W Act owing to their cultural significance) national parks, marine parks, wilderness areas and other conservation reserves throughout NSW. NPA supports the spirit of the Aboriginal Ownership provisions of the NP&W Act but considers the provisions require amendment to ensure the security and conservation of lands of this category dedicated under the NP&W Act.

NPA believes that long-term protection of Aboriginal owned National Parks can not be assured under the current provisions. In particular, NPA is concerned that if renewal negotiations between the relevant Aboriginal group and the NPWS fail at the end of a lease period and legal action ensues, the status of National Park could be removed.

Due to the uncertainty of security of tenure, NPA believes that the Aboriginal Ownership provisions of the NP&W Act should be amended so that the lease back is in perpetuity, but that lease conditions are reviewed on a regular basis (e.g. every five years, as in the Mutawintji model).

[NPA has legal advice that permanent tenure as National Park is uncertain under the current provisions.]

NPA believes that the Aboriginal Ownership provisions of the NP&W Act should be amended so that any new areas nominated for Aboriginal ownership, should meet a minimum set of agreed criteria for cultural significance, and that the NPA should be involved in the establishment of these criteria.

[At present, if a new area becomes an Aboriginal-owned park, it is automatically included on Schedule 14 and becomes a benchmark park. This includes National Parks created as a result of negotiations under the ALR Act, where no traditional links are required. In keeping with original spirit of Aboriginal Ownership proposals, Schedule 14 should be limited to National Park estate lands where traditional links make Aboriginal ownership and management relevant and meaningful.]

NPA believes that a notification process should be put in place so that NPA and other conservation groups are made aware of any parks proposed for Aboriginal ownership.

NPA believes that the provision that allows altering the status of a National Park or nature reserve to a State Recreation Area or a less secure tenure be deleted from the Aboriginal Ownership provisions of NP&W Act.

NPA considers that the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council (RACAC) process is an inappropriate one for establishing Aboriginal ownership of National Parks. As the Aboriginal Ownership provisions of the NP&W Act were specifically designed to address this issue, NPA supports only this mechanism for determining Aboriginal ownership claims.

Policy on funding Aboriginal-owned National Parks

NPA considers that the mechanism for funding for Aboriginal owned National Parks could be improved. Currently, the rental for these parks is determined from adjacent land values. This is likely to be a sub-optimal and inequitable means of funding parks (i.e. parks throughout NSW are situated among lands of vastly different real estate value).

NPA therefore believes that management funding for each park should be based on a formula that takes into account the size, and management issues of each park. Further, any additional funding for community development projects, should be clearly identifiable and not come from the NPWS budget (but from a reconciliation budget), as this could adversely affect funding other parks and activities of the NPWS.

Policy on Membership of Boards of Management of Aboriginal Owned National Parks

NPA believes that a statutory position should be provided for a jointly agreed NPA/NCC member for each Board of Management.

Policy on Hunting and Gathering by Aboriginal people in National Parks

As indicated in the above general policy statement, NPA supports the right of Aboriginal owners to pursue traditional hunting, fishing and gathering activities, subject always to the overriding responsibility to ensure public safety and enjoyment and conserve and maintain the full range and abundance of species, biodiversity and diverse natural habitats.

NPA also has a strong commitment to gun and other weapon control, and believes that the carrying and use of weapons in public places by members of the public should be restricted as far as possible.

NPA therefore believes:

Given the above, NPA believes that hunting would be an appropriate activity in only a minority of the National Parks within NSW and these should be identified through the Plan of Management for each park.

Policy on vehicle use within wilderness areas

NPA believes that management trails within wilderness areas should be closed and revegetated. There should be no provision for Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal people to use vehicles within wilderness areas.

Accommodation

NPA believes that permanent accommodation within National Parks by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people should be restricted to park managers (i.e. housing for NPWS staff). In isolated parks in the Western Division, accommodation could also be provided for traditional owners for visits to the park. Accommodation should not be provided in wilderness areas.

Community Development

The Aboriginal Ownership provisions of the NP&W Act currently state that all rent payable to the Aboriginal owners of a National Park leased back to the Crown must be spent on management of the park. However, community development projects permissible under this framework are poorly defined, and it is possible they could conflict with nature conservation objectives. This condition (that rent paid by the Crown to the Aboriginal owners must be spent on park management) also seems overly restrictive in terms of Aboriginal economic and community development aspirations.

NPA believes that the community development element of the Aboriginal Ownership provisions of the NP&W Act should be altered to allow for community development outside National Parks (and any high conservation lands that are potential Park additions including those formally proposed by NPA), instead of within them. As indicated above, funding for community development projects should be clearly identifiable and come from a reconciliation budget and not from the NPWS budget.

Policy on Native Title.

NPA recognises Native Title rights. The extent that they remain or have been extinguished within NSW, however, remains unresolved at this stage. It is likely that the issues will only be crystallised via court case determinations.

Policy on collaborative projects with Aboriginal groups.

NPA strongly supports proposals to work with Aboriginal people with regard to conservation projects. In particular, NPA should actively support projects to generate additional funds to acquire lands of nature conservation and heritage value in NSW to complement the core reserve system of National parks and nature reserves. Liaison with the NSW Aboriginal Lands Council, the Indigenous Land Corporation and other conservation groups should be undertaken in relation to such projects.

Policy on improving dialogue and collaboration with relevant Aboriginal groups.

In the past NPA has had only intermittent communication with Aboriginal people and groups. Further, this has often occurred only in times of political urgency and pressure. To enhance understanding and collaboration a much greater level of communication is required.

To address this, NPA should seek regular meetings with Aboriginal groups. This should happen at all levels, i.e. both State Council and branches with respect to NPA, and local and State land councils as well as traditional owners with respect to Aboriginal groups.

[ Adopted May 2000 ]

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