Council considers involvement in native title claim

The area marked by the brown boundary is the area of the native title claim.
The area marked by the brown boundary is the area of the native title claim.

As a landmark native title claim by the Yuin people gathers momentum, Bega Valley Shire Council must decide whether it wants to be a party to the claim and has been told it has until August 29 to notify the federal court of its interest.

The South Coast people’s claim covers 16,808 sq km, extending south from Sydney to Eden, along the south coast of NSW and west towards Braidwood and also extends three nautical miles into ocean; Bega Valley Shire is one of six councils affected. Over 850 Yuin people met to formally authorise the claim.

The claim does not affect freehold land but does extend to national parks, state forests, Crown land and council-managed Crown land and reserves.

We’re the landlords of this country, why should we be the poorest people in it.

Wally Stewart, native title claimant

One of the 12 claimants representing the Yuin people, Wally Stewart said it was an opportunity to sit down and talk with councils and negotiate.

“Some councils have done an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with native title claims. We’re not here to threaten anyone, we just want to enhance things for our people. We’re here to work with communities,” Mr Stewart said.

“At the end of the day its about sitting down at the same table. We’re the landlords of this country, why should we be the poorest people in it,” Mr Stewart said.

In relation to Bega Valley Shire he pointed to the high cost of funerals.

“There are some things we would like to negotiate. For our people to be buried in their own land it costs $3500 for a grave site, $10,000 for a funeral. I would like to see land set aside for our people in cemeteries,” Mr Stewart said.

For council the claim raises a number of financial issues which will be discussed at the council meeting on Wednesday.

The claim covers almost every Crown Reserve land holding within the Bega Valley Shire Local Government Area.

We’re not here to threaten anyone, we just want to enhance things for our people. We’re here to work with communities.

Wally Stewart, native title claimant

In his report to council, director community, relations and leisure Anthony Basford said the claim had the potential to substantially disrupt the way council-managed Crown Lands were currently utilised by the community.

He warned there were costs attached to council becoming a party to the federal court proceedings through potential legal representation in addition to council officers’ time.

“At this stage these potential costs are not possible to determine; however are likely to run into the thousands,” Mr Basford said.

“Depending on the outcome of the court, there may be opportunities for native title holders to claim compensation,” he said.

Council manages 450 parcels of Crown Land (approximately 1300ha) which include 83 Crown Reserves under the trust management of council, 50 Crown Reserves under council’s care, control and management, 14 cemeteries and some parcels relating to Crown roads. Council annually receives approximately $85,000 in leasehold revenue.

At this stage these potential costs are not possible to determine; however are likely to run into the thousands.

Anthony Basford, BVSC

Mr Stewart said it would take another two years to gather all the evidence, including statements from anthropologists but said there was the possibility of agreement along the way, a “chance to negotiate outside the box”.

“I don’t know where these claims are going to end up, some have taken 20 years but more recently only four years. The native title services have got smarter and helped to close the gap,” he said.

While he wants to see cultural fishing rights enacted for the Aboriginal people of the South Coast he said the claim would not affect oyster leases.

“We have had a raw deal on the South Coast. In other areas the Commonwealth manage the waters but here its the state and Fisheries police it making Aboriginal people to be criminals in our own country doing something that’s our way of life, our culture,” Mr Stewart said.

“We’ve looked after these waters for thousands of years. We’re not the ones doing the damage,” he said.

Council officers have recommended that council make an application to become a party to federal court Application No NSD1331/2017 for a determination of native title lodged by the South Coast People.

Native title is the recognition by Australian law that some Indigenous groups hold rights and interests in land and waters based on their traditional laws and customs.

NSW Department of Industry documents state that apart from the applicants and governments, the people who are generally most interested in native title applications are infrastructure providers (such as telecommunications or energy supply companies), other Indigenous groups, and people with leases or licences over state land and water.

Even if a native title claim covers a large area of land, most people will be unaffected by a claim as native title does not exist where past grants or government action is wholly inconsistent with it.

Only people with leases, licences or other permits over state land and water (such as Crown reserves, national parks, state forests and river beds) where native title has not been previously extinguished may be affected. Native title cannot take away validly granted rights. Where native title rights conflict with rights and interests conferred by the state to another person, the rights of the other person prevail, the DoI documents state.

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