Our Land, Our Rights (to download full PDF document please click below)

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A Statement of First Principles for First Nations

March 22, 2011

The State's peak Aboriginal representative organisation has urged an incoming Government, and all Members of Parliament, to support the signing of a unique endorsement for land rights and self-determination during the first term of the new Parliament.

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) has proposed the leaders of all parties, particularly those of the incoming Government, join with the elected Aboriginal leaders in signing a Statement of First Principles for First Nations.

NSWALC Chairwoman Bev Manton says her Council believes the endorsement of all parties for such a Statement would re-assert the will of the NSW Parliament to continue to work to advance the rights of Aboriginal people.

The proposed Statement of First Principles for First Nations is one of a number of policy measures outlined in NSWALC's State Election policy document, Our Land, Our Rights, which was publicly released today.

Ms. Manton explained that every one of the more than 20-thousand members of the land council network in NSW was conscious of the fact that the land rights they now enjoy are a creation of the Parliament and, as such, exist at the will of the Parliament.

"We are now looking at what community benefits land rights might deliver by 2025 and beyond but we are always conscious that Governments come and go and priorities can change," she said.

"We understand and support the need to keep the machinery provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act under constant review. Legislation can always be improved.

"However, it would assist all parties, particularly the Aboriginal people of this state, if we can attain a position which allows us to move forward and plan for the future in the knowledge the core intentions and purposes of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, and the new recognition in the amended preamble to the State Constitution, are set in stone."

Ms. Manton said the NSWALC proposed a short Statement of First Principles which would include a written commitment of the NSW Parliament to:

  • The purposes of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 and its core intention as compensation for the dispossession of Aboriginal land.
  • Retention of the capital compensation fund, the NSWALC Account, or Statutory Investment Fund, in the care and control of duly elected Aboriginal people subject to normal statutory audit procedures.
  • Retention of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land as the State's peak duly elected Aboriginal representative organisation and a network of Local Aboriginal Land Council under their current mandates.
  • To work in the next term of Parliament for the establishment of an Aboriginal Heritage Commission as promised during the introduction of the ALRA in 1983.

"In short," she added, "the NSWALC believes all members of the new Parliament, particularly those occupying the Treasury benches, should, at very least, frame all policies affecting Aboriginal people in NSW in concert with the original intent, spirit, and letter of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (as amended) and the amended Preamble to the Constitution Act.

"The cross party support for the Constitution Amendment Bill, and the principles enshrined in the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, built on an agreement in the last Parliament between the Labor Government and the Liberal-National Coalition.

"They agreed to work together, and with non-government organisations and the community, to close the gap in Aboriginal disadvantage in areas such as health, welfare and education.

"This included a commitment to advance the rights and aspirations of Aboriginal people in New South Wales.

"NSWALC believes it is crucial this approach be carried into the new Parliament.

"We are seeking to ensure the incoming State Government will honour the ongoing statutory recognition of our rights to land, increase our power over culture and heritage, and provide clear and unequivocal support for our rights to real and meaningful self-determination and to the ongoing representation by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people."

Ms. Manton said NSWALC's election document also called for a commitment from the incoming Government to continue the 25-year $200 million dollar program to bring water and sewerage services in discrete Aboriginal communities up to the same standard enjoyed by their fellow Australians.

"NSWALC has committed $100 million of our compensation monies to this initiative on a matching dollar for dollar basis with the State Labor Government," she added.

"The program is now delivering results. These are outlined in Our Land, Our Rights.

"It is vital this program continue."

Ms. Manton said the election document also contained a range of other measures which NSWALC believed are necessary to be achieved by an incoming Government in the new Parliament, with the bipartisan support of all Parliamentarians, to build on the gains already made in recognising Aboriginal rights.

These ranged from a negotiated solution to accelerate the rate of land claim determinations to a call for the introduction of an Aboriginal Assembly at least once a year in the State Parliament.

Ms. Manton said Our Land, Our Rights made it clear the land rights network should continue to be self-funded and largely self-regulated, with no call on taxpayers money for the operational costs of the land rights system.

However, the document requested an incoming State Government match the NSWALC's $30 million Education Endowment Scholarship Scheme on a dollar for dollar basis.

It also called on the State Government to work with the NSWALC to seek a similar contribution from the Commonwealth Government.

"The most recent reports to the NSW Government show there has been no significant improvement in the proportion of Aboriginal students reaching the current literacy and numeracy benchmarks," Ms. Manton added.

"There remains a considerable gap in the achievement of Aboriginal students.

"The NSWALC scholarships are making a difference.

"We have quarantined $30 million dollars from our capital; investment fund to finance our scholarships but we are struggling to meet demand.

"A dollar for dollar contribution from both the State and Commonwealth Government's would provide us a $90 million fund.

"It would allow us to immediately triple our investment in the education and future of our people from primary through to tertiary. In our view it's a small ask to close a crucial gap in the life opportunities of our people."