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Landmark agreement between Aborigines and NSW Government signifies new era in Land Rights recognition



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Media Monitors To: Political editor

November 23, 1998

NEW SO U TH WALES

MEDIA RELEASE

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LANDMARK AGREEMENT BETWEEN ABORIGINES AND NSW GOVERNMENT SIGNIFIES NEW ERA IN LAND RIGHTS - - $ SLJ RECOGNITION

A landmark agreement between the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) has been hailed one of the most important progressions in the recognition o f Aboriginal land rights in NSW since the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act was enacted in 1983.

The NSWALC today reached an understanding with the New South Wales Government concerning the implementation o f the Forests and National Parks Estates Bill 1998, to ensure that the dedication o f any national parks created under the Bill, and their management, will comply with the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and the Native Title Act 1993 (Commonwealth). NSWALC and the Government will now negotiate a framework agreement to enable this common understanding to be implemented.

NSWALC Chairperson Cr Ossie Cruse described it as a major step forward in the fight by Aboriginal people to have their rights to land formally acknowledged.

“The agreement simply involves the recognition that Native Title rights are potentially still held by Aboriginal people in many areas,” Cr Cruse said. Where these rights haven’t clearly been extinguished the Government has agreed to negotiate. It’s a matter o f good public policy, respecting existing rights and following the laws which protect them,

“This signifies that for the first time since 1788 Government has committed to dealing with Aboriginal people as owners of their traditional lands,” he said.

“This recognition by the Government heralds the beginning of a new era in Aboriginal reconciliation in this State. I strongly urge that the Parliament gives its full bipartisan support to allow for the passage of the Bill into law, consistent with the Parliament’s prior unanimous commitment to Aboriginal reconciliation,” Cr Cruse said.

Cr Cruse said it was NSWALC’s responsibility to, where possible, negotiate with Government to protect Aboriginal land rights and Native Title rights, and to maximise the opportunities for Aboriginal people to have input into the land use and management decisions which affect their communities and traditional lands.

“Aboriginal people have broad ranging interests in forests and national park lands including spiritual, cultural, social and economic interests. Some of these interests are supported by legal rights and some are not, but all are important to Aboriginal people," Cr Cruse said.

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“Value judgements by Aboriginal people about use and management o f particular areas o f land should be made by those Aboriginal people whose lives and rights are affected by that use and management. These are the kinds of opportunities Aboriginal people want. They involve recognition o f the special place of Aboriginal people in this country and will allow the talking and healing process with non-Aboriginal Australians to progress.

“The real work is now about to begin.”

Cr Crnse also applauded the Government for the initiatives in the South East of the State where it is proposing to grant lands to Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs) as well as add Biamanga National Park to the schedule of National Parks to be transferred to Aboriginal people, leased back to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and placed under joint management. In many areas agreements processes at a local level have also commenced with NSW State Forests over Aboriginal use and protection o f State Forest lands.

He said it was important to note that today’s agreement with the Government only affected lands owned by the Government and not private interests in land, such as freehold title. Under the land grants to the LALCs, all existing interests such as leases and rights o f way are preserved.

“These specific outcomes are the result o f extensive negotiations between Aboriginal people and the Government, involving compromise on both sides. We will support other Aboriginal communities involved in the Regional Forestry Agreement process pursuing similar outcomes.

Cr Cruse said that the NSWALC’s role in the debate over the use and management o f forests and national park lands, had been to facilitate Aboriginal community involvement at the local and regional level within the Regional Forest Agreement process.

“We have always done this in good faith and on the condition that Aboriginal rights, whether expressed through the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 or the Native Title A ct 1993 (Cth), would be respected. In committing to enter into the agreements related to this Bill, the Government has returned that good faith,” Cr Cruse said.

“While we have had our ups and downs in what has been a compressed and stressful Regional Forest Agreement process, I believe that with the content o f the Bill and the agreement reached today, the Government has shown it has a vision of reconciliation which involves meeting

Aboriginal people halfway. I certainly hope this vision is transformed into reality. This is possible with the ongoing goodwill o f all involved.”

Under the understanding reached today with the Government, led by Premier Carr, an agreements process with Aboriginal people over the use and management o f the new national parks created under the Bill is foreshadowed.

“I have instructed the NSWALC staff to begin negotiations on the framework agreement immediately,” he said. “We hope the framework agreement will be finished by February 1999 to provide a guide for the Indigenous Land Use Agreements to be made on a local or regional level. NSWALC-witi then play a role o f facilitating these agreements ”

Media Information and interview requests: Trody Glasgow (02) 9689 4470; 0417 297 976 Also available for comment: Native Title Unit Manager Gavin Andrews: 0419 419 765 Acting Land Rights Unit Manager Sean Docker: 0417 231 709