By: Calla Wahlquist
Date: November 14th 2016
Source: The Guardian
Chairman of Glen Innes branch of Aboriginal Land Council says it’s ironic for a non-Indigenous person to describe any claim to land as ‘opportunistic’
The NSW Aboriginal Land Council has criticised the mayor of Glen Innes in the north of the state for describing a land claim application as “opportunistic”.
The Glen Innes branch of the land council applied for 17 lots of crown land within the Glen Innes Severn shire under the state’s Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983, which allows Indigenous people to apply for the freehold title to crown land that is not necessary for public use.
The application was made in 2005 but notification was sent to the local government by the Department of Industry only two months ago.
The mayor, Steve Toms, said his comments had been taken out of context and he had not intended to diminish Indigenous people’s right to the land or block the claim.
Toms told the ABC the application process was “somewhat opportunistic” because some of the lots under application were smaller than a house block, but he denied using the words “land grab”.
“The word that I mostly used was blanket claims, blanket in the sense that there’s a process for searching out crown lands and if they meet the criteria then they are eligible to have a land claim over them,” he told Guardian Australia.
The NSW land council chairman, Wiradjuri man Roy Ah-See, said it was ironic for a non-Indigenous person to describe any claim to land as “opportunistic”.
“If you are an Aboriginal person in this country, the first land grab happened in 1788,” Ah-See said. “All we are doing is exercising our rights under the legislation.”
He said the comments harked back to populist arguments against the Mabo case and the introduction of native title, which claimed people could lose their backyard to the traditional owners.
The council has objected to the claim over one of the lots that was earmarked as a future landfill site, but Toms said it did not raise any objections to the other 16.
He said he had not received any complaints from the local Indigenous community but would raise it with the council’s Aboriginal consultative committee.
“I certainly wasn’t making any judgments about the process,” Toms said. “The process is what the process is.”
“We respect the rights of every individual in our community.”
There are 33m ha of crown land in NSW, of which 127,000ha, or 0.4%, has been converted to freehold title for the purpose of Indigenous peoples in the 36 years since the Aboriginal Land Rights Act was introduced. That includes four claims within the Glen Innes Severn shire.
Ah-See said the projects developed on that land benefited the whole community.
A successful land claim in Darkinjung was developed into a residential housing estate for both non-Indigenous and Indigenous buyers, with the proceeds funding community programs and scholarships for Indigenous children.
Another project at Nelson Bay has been developed into an award-winning tourism attraction.
The 11-year delay at Glen Innes was “not surprising”, Ah-See said.
As of 2 November there were 29,801 claims awaiting determination.
“Aboriginal people are ratepayers, taxpayers, we are part of society,” he said. “One would hope that being in a leadership position you would ensure you were able to support some type of outcome that’s going to be able to benefit everyone.”
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Photo source: Steve Evans via Flickr/Creative Commons (CC By-NC-ND 2.0). Photo: © Steve Evans