Land rights program could be key to resolving Indigenous social issues

Reformed Land Negotiation Program could be key to winning back land, help resolve Indigenous social issues says Regional Councilor

Community Development
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Northern Regional Councillor Charles Lynch said land won back in the Tamworth area could be used for "commercial development or residential development" to help address housing insecurity in the community.

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LAND HOPE: NSW Aboriginal Land Council Deputy Chairperson Charles Lynch said he hopes reform to a state government program will help resolve social problems.

LAND HOPE: NSW Aboriginal Land Council Deputy Chairperson Charles Lynch said he hopes reform to a state government program will help resolve social problems.

An Indigenous leader hopes the Tamworth Local Aboriginal Land Council could use land won back through a state government program to resolve social issues like homelessness through development.

Established in 2016, the Land Negotiation program was developed to facilitate transfer of disused Crown Land from state government to local government councils, or back into traditional ownership.

As many as many as 4000 parcels of land around Tamworth could be covered by the program.

The Tamworth local government area is one of just seven 'pilot' regions in the state.

Northern Regional Councillor Charles Lynch said land won back in the Tamworth region could be used for "commercial development or residential development" to help address housing insecurity in the community.

Read more: Indigenous resources sparks conversation

A report released in August found the program had been held up by attitudes in staff in the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, which administrates negotiations.

Cr Lynch said "miscommunications" had "stalled" the process, and no land had yet been transferred in Tamworth, or Quirindi, or anywhere else in NSW. He also condemned what he said were efforts to force Land Councils to surrender future land claims in return for grants of Crown Land, and asked for access to data identifying all claimable Crown Land.

But ultimately the Land Council network supports the process, he said, and he had high hopes for reform.

"The new heads of the department have I think really shown a strong intent to make change. They do want to work with LALCs and get these agreements and negotiations back on track, in good faith.

"They've now got what I believe [are] the right intentions to move forward. Thus, [negotiations have] recommenced."

Cr Lynch said Land Councils would likely want to take back land with cultural heritage significance for preservation.

But they could also look for development opportunities to help address housing insecurity in the community.

"This is about meeting some of those social disadvantages that, to put it bluntly, the State government or Commonwealth government don't seem to want to address," he said.

"I think the current build for Aboriginal housing in NSW is about 127 over 3 years. We've got a waiting list of over 13k Aboriginal people. So that in itself tells you the dire straits of housing and homelessness."

He said it could also help improve health outcomes and create jobs for Indigenous people, and resolve other "social deficits" that "our people face every day". Land ownership is the key to resolving those problems, he said.

"This is not about getting land and selling it, it's about leveraging it to create and meet those social disadvantages we currently have," he said.

"Access to land plays such a big role in the wellbeing of our people and that's very important, well before infrastructure goes on it."

A spokesperson for the Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment said Crown Lands is "now working closely with stakeholders and partners including the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, Local Aboriginal Land Councils and Local Government Councils to build a refreshed program."

The program has "strong support among participants and stakeholders for continuing with the program, which will be expanded across NSW," they said.

"We are working with Tamworth Regional Council and Tamworth and Nungaroo Local Aboriginal Land Councils to identify their priority land transfers from the pilot program in which they were participants."

More than 300 hectares of land has been granted to Local Aboriginal Land Councils in the Tamworth LGA since 1983.

The program does not guarantee any claim on Crown Land will be approved. Land Councils are eligible to claim just 6 or 8 per cent of the land in NSW, Cr Lynch said.

Land Councils have made some 38,000 land claims in NSW, 12,000 have been assessed, with just 4000 of them approved, after 43 years.

Cr Lynch said Tamworth Local Aboriginal Land Council is ready to take on the challenges of land ownership.

"For me it's a no brainer. We get the land base sorted out, get the land back where it rightfully belongs and that will address the many social disadvantages we currently have."

The story Land rights program could be key to resolving Indigenous social issues first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.

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