by NICK SPENCER – MOSMAN Council has rejected an Aboriginal land claim over one of the wealthiest parts of Sydney.
The Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, a representative Indigenous body working solely on lands rights issues, began its claim in 2009 over a $100m parcel in Mosman encompassing a 2500 square metre park opposite Balmoral Beach.
Although submitted 14 years ago, Mosman Council met last week to deliberate on the claim, unanimously voting to reject it.
The matter sprung up late because it had only just reached the assessment phase of the land claim process, after which councils normally have a month to either accept or reject a submission.
The claim was lodged on the basis of the NSW 1983 Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which grants Indigenous bodies the right to Crown land, or government-owned land, that is currently not in use.
The Act allows government representatives and council members, on behalf of their constituents, to enter into agreements with Aboriginal Land Councils.
The Act does, however, only allow for claims to be lodged on land that has already been made the subject of pre-existing Native Title interests.
Native Title is a legal construct devised to recognise Indigenous landholdings.
Mosman Council’s former deputy mayor, Roy Bendall, weighed in on the matter, suggesting concerns the parkland could even be subject to a Native Title claim considering its frequent usage and maintenance.
“The council has been looking after it and maintaining it for the past 100-odd years and it’s a highly used area for recreation,” Mr Bendall told 2GB after being ousted from his position during last week’s council meeting.
“It’s waterfront land so you can imagine how busy Balmoral gets,” he said.
“We have been maintaining it. We’ve had bush care groups maintaining it, so we’re actually amazed that this is even subject to a claim.”
Mr Bendall also said he was bemused as to why the government departments demanded the motion be kept confidential up until 30 minutes prior to the council meeting.
“We spent a week trying to find out what the legal basis was for the confidentiality but in the documents that we were originally given we had to agree not to put it in the media, not put it to the public, not even tell local residents that this was happening.”
Sydney’s Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) revealed on September 6 that there are about 3000 land claims awaiting assessment within its jurisdiction, with 40,000 lodged by a number of organisations across NSW.
However, these are only the claims not subject to confidentiality mandates. The true number is yet to be determined and could be greater.
The move comes as Australians prepare to go to the polls on October 14 to decide on whether to alter the preamble of the nation’s Constitution and to embed a near-permanent advisory body into Parliament to represent Indigenous interests.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has warned more land claims could be in the pipeline if the Voice referendum succeeds.
“There is nothing happening in this space that’s not likely to accelerate and intensify should the Voice be established,” Mr Abbott told 2GB radio on September 5.
The Metro LALC’s CEO Nathan Moran has defended his organisation’s claims, justifying his position by saying Indigenous bodies were granted the right to make such claims in compensation for losing land upon British colonisation.
“The NSW Land Rights Act in 1983 was set up as recompense for the loss of the State, for or all the resources, minerals, freehold private land, pastoral lands, licence lands,” Mr Moran told 2GB radio.
“It’s been one of the very sad points of NSW Land Rights, we haven’t been able to realise a right. We’ve made the claims, we just hope they can be assessed and acknowledge the evidence of success rates.
“Not all claims are actually made successfully and granted to us.”
Although the council’s decision has been finalised, the fate of the LALC’s claim on Balmoral’s Lawry Plunkett Reserve will be left to the decision of NSW Crown Lands, the government body responsible for administering land rights and Native Title acts as well as managing all publicly-owned land.PC