Native title and land rights acts are not equal | Land Portal

MOST people have heard of the historic 1992 High Court Mabo Decision and the Native Title Act 1993.

However, many people may not be aware of the NSW State Government Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (ARLA) and its impact.

Sometimes too, there is confusion between the two acts, but they are two very different pieces of legislation.

In simple terms, the Native Title Act is a federal legislation that recognises Aboriginal people's traditional connection to their land, whilst ARLA is state legislation that has the power to provide compensation (in the form of crown land) to Aboriginal people for dispossession.

After intense lobbying by Aboriginal people and their supporters in the 1970s and early 1980s, the then NSW Labor government introduced the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983.

The Aboriginal Land Council structure was established thereafter.

Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALC) were set up in Aboriginal communities state wide, overseen by the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC).

Today there are 120 active LALCs with five LALCs in the Clarence Valley. Aboriginal people can apply to become members of the LALC in their local area.

According to NSWALC "Under the ALRA, Aboriginal Land Councils can make claims over unused and unneeded crown land as compensation for dispossession and as such the use and management of crown land and Aboriginal land rights are intertwined".

It should be noted however, that a claim over crown land by an LALC does not necessarily ensure possession of that land.

In fact NSWALC notes that of the 38,779 land claims lodged since 1983, only 2655 (6%) have been granted. 7852 claims (20%) have been rejected and 29,090 claims (74%) are still to be decided.

LALCS normally apply for crown land to benefit the community they serve and to ensure the preservation and protection of cultural sites.

However, most land councils have become so much more than just a structure to claim and manage land.

Land councils are often an integral part of an Aboriginal community, promoting community development and Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Many LALCs provide various community services, a venue for community activities, housing, employment, as well as a political voice for members.

In smaller communities, the LALC may be the only Aboriginal organisation and therefore may be seen as the "centre" of the Aboriginal community.

Over the years, there have been many changes to the ARLA. However, the most significant change was the amendments in 2006 that ensured a corporate governance structure was implemented with LALCs.

This means a board is elected from the membership to oversee the operations of the LALC and to provide strategic direction to the CEO.

Prior to 2006 LALCs operated on a two-tier structure, with just LALC members and an LALC manager.

Since 1998, the land council structure has been self-funded, generating its funding from a Statutory Investment Fund.

Giinagay Jinggiwahla ("hello" in our first nation languages) is a weekly column covering the indigenous communities of the Clarence Valley exploring a variety of topics, opinions and events across our first nation areas Bundjalung, Yaegl and Gumbaynggirr.

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